Only 11 days have passed since Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, revealed that the Trump administration was illegally withholding a whistle-blower complaint from Congress. When the news came out, I — probably like most observers — expected it to be another fizzle, yet another clear example of Trump malfeasance that would just fail to catch fire with Congress or the public.
And that may yet happen. I presume and hope that pollsters are at work as we speak, trying to gauge public opinion on the scandal. But this time feels different, maybe because it’s so simple and clear cut. The president of the United States and his personal lawyer both admit that they called on a foreign regime to produce dirt on one of his political rivals. It now looks as if he tried to pressure said foreign regime by withholding crucial military aid, which makes it worse.
The result is that this scandal is blowing up in a way previous Trump scandals, no matter how serious, haven’t. A House vote to impeach has quickly gone from “unlikely” to “more likely than not.”
Why does this matter? In general, I dislike the common journalistic trope of “winners and losers” from political developments. In this case, however, it seems to me like a good way to sum up the fallout so far. So here are three winners and two losers from the developments so far.
1. Adam Schiff: After years when it seemed as if nothing could shake Trump’s ability to stonewall, Schiff started an avalanche that has a good chance of bringing the wall tumbling down.
2. The narrative of Trump as betrayer of America: There has been abundant evidence all along that Trump’s team colluded with Russia in 2016, and that Trump in office has been all too happy to carry water for brutal foreign autocrats. But it was all complicated and obscure enough to confuse many people. Pressuring Ukraine to smear Joe Biden’s son is something everyone can understand, and it retroactively makes all the other accusations credible.
3. Hard-working reporters: We don’t have all the facts about what exactly Trump and company did to set off the whistle-blower, but the past week and a half have been one devastating revelation after another, all thanks to reporters at major news outlets, including The Times.
1. “Savvy” journalistic analysis: The two great media sins of 2016 were false equivalence and the substitution of speculation about how things would “play” for description of what was actually going on. Sure enough, the first reaction of some in the media was to present Trump’s verified abuse of power and completely unsupported claims of corruption by Joe Biden as comparably grave, and to suggest that the episode somehow “raises questions” about Biden — a cowardly dodge of the media’s obligation to get at the truth. But articles along these lines generated huge criticism, and I’m seeing a lot less of that sort of thing in the past couple of days.
2. Senate Republicans: It’s looking quite likely now that G.O.P. senators will have to vote on charges of impeachment — charges that will be based on documented abuses, not disputable interpretations. Most if not all of them will, of course, vote to acquit. But in so doing they’ll expose their corruption and disloyalty to American principles for all to see.
So it’s been quite a couple of weeks. And while it won’t be over until November of next year, and probably not even then, it looks as if Trump and his party are finally in the kind of trouble they deserve.