I am not generally given to original “words of wisdom”. Most of the wisdom that I have accumulated and tried to pass on to our children is from books, or speeches, or old sayings of my family. But I do have one piece of advice that I gave our children growing up that I would pass on to anyone willing to listen. When you are involved in decision-making, whether it involves a relationship, a work situation, learning to drive, where to go, what to do…always make that decision after asking one critical question: “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?”
If you are in a hurry in your vehicle and are tempted to pass a sitting school bus, ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” It is a philosophy that works in almost any situation, trivial or highly consequential. Thinking about cheating on a test? Tempted to open that DM from an ex? Is that week-old bowl of chili in the fridge looking tasty? If the potential negative consequences of that action are something that you have no desire to endure, then you obviously must decide against the action. I guess we could call it the “risk mitigation proclamation”. When you limit your exposure to risk, then your chances of disaster are naturally limited as well.
That brings us to the Senate trial of Donald John Trump and the increasing calls for the testimony of former National Security Advisor John Bolton. This decision, like most in the legislative setting, will be made at the margins. Ultimately, and with some notable exceptions, it will be the Senators at risk in 2020 that will decide this issue. Lamar Alexander and Mitt Romney could defect from the Republicans on witnesses, even though Alexander is retiring and Romney won’t face voters again until 2024. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell faces tougher-than-normal reelection but there is zero chance he breaks from the desires of the President.
On the Democratic side, Doug Jones of Alabama and Gary Peters of Michigan will face reelection pressure on this decision, even though Jones has openly said that he believes witnesses and documents are key components of a fair trial. Joe Manchin of West Virginia could break from the Democrats, even though he has said he is not seeking another term and has four years to recover from any negative publicity should he ultimately decide to run.
For the GOP, Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina face the most direct pressure in purple states. Martha McSally of Arizona should probably consider this as well, but after her embarrassing, Hannity-style insult of a reporter for asking a legitimate question, she has shown either to be incredibly stupid or she has decided its “base or bust” for her in 2020.
Without a doubt, those Senators facing reelection took careful notice of this week’s Quinnipiac poll that showed 75% of the American people favor calling witnesses in the trial, including 49% of Republicans and a staggering 75% of independents. Those are numbers that will get you beat in a tight election.
So what if we apply the “risk mitigation proclamation” to this situation. If you are in a purple state, or if you are in a state where your party is the minority, losing the election in November would not be the consideration. You could do everything right and still lose a tough election. The proper application is, how does it affect your ability to campaign effectively and give yourself a fair shot at winning?
If you are Collins, Tillis, or Gardner, and you vote to shut down witness testimony, arguing that nothing new will be learned from it, what is the worst thing that could happen? The worst thing is that John Bolton’s book is published in March or April, and there IS critical new information inside. You can’t accuse him of lying, because you had an opportunity to put him under oath and chose to run away. At that point, you have defied the wishes of virtually every Democratic voter, and three-quarters of independent voters. If your opponent is at all worthy, they will hit you with thousands of dollars in ads calling you a willing participant in covering up legitimate testimony and hiding crucial details from the American people in partisan subservience to Trump. You can no longer claim any semblance of independence. It will be THE issue of the campaign. You will spend every interview, every debate, and every town hall answering why you chose to bury your head in the sand and not seek the facts when the offer was so plainly made. The worst thing is that you are branded a partisan hack and a liar for all of history and in the minds of the swing voters in your state that you must win to be reelected.
The very future of McConnell’s majority rests upon winning in these purple states. The worst thing that could happen is that another shoe drops and the actions of the Senate majority are viewed by voters as a willing, political cover-up of illegal or highly unethical behavior. For now, they can make the argument (sort of) that we do not have the testimony of a direct link, by President Trump personally, between military aid and political investigations. Bolton’s potential testimony could change that.
No one expects the Republican Senate to convict President Trump. That outcome is virtually assured. But the American people expect and deserve to know the facts of what happened. That is why 75% support witnesses because we innately understand that we deserve to know what happened, no matter our opinion on the consequences. So, perhaps the worst thing that could happen would be the American people having to go into the 2020 election with their elected representatives having hidden the truth from them about the actions of their President?
Jeremy Jeffcoat is an Alexander City resident and former candidate for Alabama House District 81.