A Republican source close to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a reporter of impeachment Wednesday, "This is shaping up to be a very dark moment for the Trump White House."
It may sound almost too good to be true, but signs are definitely emerging that Republicans realize Donald Trump is in a heap of trouble and is growing less defensible by the day. In fact, the Senate GOP's No. 2—the guy tasked with whipping votes—said as much Wednesday morning. Acknowledging the damning nature of the cascade of testimony from career public servants, South Dakota Sen. John Thune said, “The picture coming out based on the reporting we’ve seen is not a good one. But I would say until we have a process that allows to see this with full transparency, it’s pretty hard to come to hard and fast conclusions.”
Thune knows Republicans and the American public aren't yet privy to all of what House investigators have discovered during closed-door testimony. But what is publicly available is bad enough, and Thune is basically saying, Let's see how good a case Democrats are able to assemble.
Senate GOP leadership has already had to change course on its approach to what appears to be Trump's inevitable impeachment in the House. Initially, McConnell suggested that a Senate trial would be necessary but could be done on an abbreviated timeline. But following a week of blockbuster testimony from career public servants, McConnell clearly understood an abbreviated trial wasn't going to be enough to provide the type of cover his vulnerable GOP colleagues up for reelection would need in order to claim that Republicans took Trump's malfeasance seriously. During their weekly luncheon last Wednesday, McConnell briefed his caucus on the impending Senate trial, saying it could last up to six to eight weeks. "We intend to do our constitutional responsibility," McConnell told reporters following the session.
McConnell's show of seriousness comes at a time when the reelection campaigns of some of the most vulnerable members of his caucus are sucking wind. Four Republican senators in tough reelection bids presently have approval ratings that are underwater and were simultaneously outraised by their Democratic opponents in third-quarter fundraising: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Martha McSally of Arizona, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
That's likely why Sen. Collins called the bombshell testimony Tuesday from Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, "another very important piece of evidence we’ll have to weigh.”
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But Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who isn't up for reelection, likely nailed what many Senate Republicans are privately thinking right now. “I’m not going to comment on pieces of evidence that come forward," he said. "I’m going to wait and see the package that comes from the House.”
The White House has reportedly taken note of Senate Republicans' retreat from defending Trump as his aides have "grown increasingly irritated" with the anemic response of their colleagues in the upper chamber, according to the Daily Beast. But one GOP Senate aide told the Beast that Senate Republicans simply "are not very enthusiastic about defending the indefensible on this stuff.”
Indeed, the stream of testimony is so indefensible that even members of the GOP's House Freedom Caucus are having public meltdowns over it. Check out Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks losing it on CNN’s Manu Raju over a question on Taylor’s written testimony.