The third impeachment trial in U.S. history began in the Senate chambers this week.
House of Representatives impeachment managers began their oral arguments Wednesday, with Chief Justice John Roberts presiding. When they conclude, President Donald Trump’s defense team will begin mounting their case to the 100 senators charged with voting whether to convict the President on charges of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.
This is the first impeachment trial since former President Bill Clinton’s in 1999.
TCU political science professor James Riddlesperger said the public “passion” surrounding the proceedings is “several dimensions less dominant” than previous impeachment cases.
“I think fewer people are paying attention to it, fewer people are involved in it,” Riddlesperger said. “It’s seen as just another Democratic attempt to get President Trump by Republicans. Democrats kind of see it the same way, ‘well you know he deserves to be impeached’ … but it’s not going to happen.”
Riddlesperger said the public’s overall disinterest in the proceedings and the saturation of the coverage in today’s 24-hour news cycle makes these proceedings “very different from what it was 20 years ago.”
“I think people are exhausted with this process and want to move onto other things,” he said. “The Nixon impeachment process was a national obsession … the Clinton trial was a big deal and got a huge amount of press coverage. This has not reached that level.”
Another difference between Trump and Clinton’s impeachment trials is the timing. Clinton’s occurred after he had been re-elected for a second term, while Trump’s comes just months before he vies for re-election.
Riddlesperger said the impeachment trial happening this close to the next presidential election is leading the country into “uncharted territory.”
“President Trump does not want it to distract from his re-election campaign, so the sooner this can be disposed of, the better for his campaign,” Riddlesperger said. “The Democrats are in this unique position where several of the front runners in this election process are members of the United States Senate. So here they are sitting as a jury in an impeachment trial, rather than campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire for their initial contests.”
Even with waning public interest, Riddlesperger said the issues at play in Trump’s impeachment are far more like what the Founding Fathers envisioned impeachment proceedings would address.
“[The Founders] were worried about international affairs and foreign governments having an influence on decision-making in the United States,” Riddlesperger said. “It is clear that the allegations that the Democrats have made about President Trump’s behavior concern issues that the framers would have been worried about.”