Republicans are bored — and they hope the American public shares their tedium.
The first week of President Trump’s impeachment trial has been met with regular assertions from GOP senators — as well as outside allies — that there is nothing to see here.
Whether their personal lack of excitement is real or confected, it seems to clearly have a tactical purpose: to encourage voters to pay little heed to what is going on.
Democrats have pushed back hard, emphasizing that the Senate is conducting one of its gravest duties — deciding whether a president has committed such egregious deeds to warrant his removal from office. The question, they say, is one of substance, not of entertainment.
“This is not a television show, and it shouldn’t be thought of, or judged, based on the standard of what is entertaining television,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told CNN on Thursday. “This is a trial on the impeachment of the president of the United States.”
But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from pushing forward the idea that the Senate trial is a snoozefest, short of a fistfight breaking out between the House impeachment managers and the White House legal team.
“I think the troubling thing for many of us is actually staying alert enough to be able to follow it,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close ally of the president, said Wednesday. “I would suggest that the American people, if they could turn their channel and watch something else, that is what they are doing.”
Republicans have signaled their boredom in other ways, too.
Other senators appear to have fallen asleep or skipped out on parts of the hearing.
For most in the GOP, an impeachment process that does not shift Trump’s approval numbers or the public appetite for the president’s removal would be a perfectly acceptable outcome.
Current polling shows the nation evenly divided over Trump’s fate.
The RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling average on Thursday afternoon showed less than 1 percentage point separating those who want Trump removed from office (47 percent) from those who do not (47.9 percent).
The president’s overall job approval numbers remain in the same general range as they were a year ago — tepid but not catastrophic. The RCP average indicates that his performance in office gets 44.3 percent approval and 52.4 percent disapproval.
Republicans can live with that — so long as it gets no worse. For the moment, therefore, they are playing down the significance of the action on the Senate floor.
“Just a few hours into their opening arguments, they’re already repeating the same points they made for 13 hours yesterday,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) complained on Wednesday, as Democratic impeachment managers, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), pressed the case against Trump.
“A rehashing of yesterday’s charade,” echoed Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to a group of reporters at the Capitol, also on Wednesday.
“You’re not going to win the game by time of possession,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told Slate on Tuesday, referring to the 24 hours allowed, over three days, for the Democrats to lay out their arguments.
Even some Republicans who are not part of the praetorian guard around Trump have expressed a distinct lack of enthusiasm about proceedings. “Yesterday was a long day,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters on Thursday, echoing that the arguments became repetitive.
But the cries of tedium have come loudest and most insistently from Trump-friendly media figures.
Sean Hannity told his Fox News viewers that he was “not going to torture you” by broadcasting large swathes of the trial. On the same network, “Fox & Friends” anchor Steve Doocy complained that the proceedings were “unbelievably boring.”
On Thursday, Laura Ingraham retweeted a post showing strong ratings for Fox News shows the previous evening and added, “I thought impeachment was supposed to be the left’s big ratings breakthrough?”
Democrats, however, say there is a strategy behind their long, and at times repetitive, arguments.
Throughout the day, viewers are likely to tune in and out of the hours-long Senate trial coverage coverage, so hammering key points again and again gives Democrats the opportunity to deliver their message to different audiences.
“We are trying this case before two juries: the Senate and the American people,” Schiff said Wednesday afternoon.
“I have to hope that some if not all of the senators will abide by that oath and will hear us with an open mind. But even if they don’t, I do suspect the American people are watching and the American people are listening and they do have an open mind. And it is those Americans we are talking to also,” the lead impeachment manager added.
The boredom talk has further inflamed the partisan debate over whether the Senate should hear testimony from new witnesses and receive documents that the White House withheld from the House during its impeachment inquiry.
Whenever Republicans insist that they have heard nothing new in the impeachment managers’ arguments, Democrats have shot back that testimony from key witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney would resolve their complaints.
Democrats argue that these witnesses, who refused to testify in the House impeachment inquiry, are central players with firsthand accounts of Trump’s pressure campaign toward Ukraine. And their push was aided earlier this month when Bolton in a statement said he would be willing to testify if the GOP-controlled Senate subpoenaed him for testimony.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, has been cold to the idea, casting uncertainty about whether the Trump officials will be ordered to appear before the upper chamber.
Even though the debate around impeachment had fallen primarily along very partisan lines, there have been some exceptions.
One Republican senator who bucked the Republican “boring” talking point Wednesday was Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). who suggested that he has, in fact, learned new things from the trial.
“I’ve learned a lot. Everybody has. Senators didn’t know the case. They really didn’t. We didn’t stay glued to the television. We haven’t read the transcripts,” Kennedy told reporters.
“If you poll the United States Senate, 9 out of 10 senators will tell you they have not read a transcript of the proceedings in the House. And the 10th senator who says he has is lying,” the senator added.