S.E. Cupp: Senate vote could offer up some surprises
At a time when politics has become less and less about governing and increasingly, well, about politics, last week is perhaps the penultimate illustration.
Last week the testimony began in President Trump’s impeachment inquiry, and the nation is watching as members of Congress from both sides of the aisle perform for the cameras and their bases — think a little William Jennings Bryan, a little Perry Mason and a lot of “Veep.”
Impeachment is, above all else, a political act. It’s not a legal one. If Democrats vote to impeach the president, he still gets to be president.
And, with the Senate needing no fewer than 20 Republicans to decide to remove him, Trump will likely remain in office and carry on his re-election bid.
Considering the political realities, it can feel like we already know how this movie will end: matter-of-factly and anticlimactically. And yet, it isn’t outside the realm of possibilities that a Capraesque finish waits in the wings.
While former Sen. Jeff Flake, a casualty of the GOP Trump takeover, warned there could be as many as 35 Republicans in the Senate who would agree to remove Trump from office if the vote were silent, they won’t have that option. Republicans who wish to put their name on Trump’s ouster will have to do it publicly, knowing all the potential costs associated with their defiance.
The lack of courage among so many Republicans to stand up to Trump on anything, from even the smallest policy disagreements to egregious moral and ethical failures, portends a fait accompli from the Republican Senate.
But what if a “coalition that could” decided they’d had enough — that this president has been a drag on their party and the country for too long, that the price of defending him wasn’t going to be worth it in the long term, that their own legacies were on the line?
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney isn’t up for re-election until 2024, giving him perhaps the longest runway to make a principled stand and then wait out Trump’s wrath.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania aren’t up until 2022, giving both of them the opportunity to take their chances on a vote to remove without immediate political consequence.
Those may be the obvious potential defectors. But some believe the more impactful moves must come from less predictable places. As Lee Drutman has noted on FiveThirtyEight, “it’s rank-and-file Republican senators up for reelection in solidly red states, like Bill Cassidy from Louisiana or Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, whom you should watch. If they waver, that will signal that Trump’s days are numbered.”
Of course, that’s asking a lot of senators who have done little to keep Trump in check up to this point.
There’s one final reason the Senate is not a foregone conclusion. We tend to think of the House as a less historically significant legislative body than the Senate. There are more representatives than there are senators, they’re up for reelection every two years, and many come and go without having much of an impact.
But for senators, the stakes are higher. Their votes and their actions aren’t written in pencil, but ink. It’s moments like these that can make or break a legacy forever. And if fewer than half of the Republican senators are mulling their own entries in the history books, it isn’t impossible to think that some could abandon the president to save themselves.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.