Columnists Earl Ofari Hutchinson Opinion

THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: The greatest witch-hunt in history begins

President Donald Trump whacked it out of the ballpark with his P.T. Barnum hype.

“The greatest witch-hunt in American history” he tweeted at the announcement of the start of impeachment proceedings.

Now that Trump and the Democrats have firmly laid down the political battle line on impeachment, the big question is who wins and who loses the most from “the greatest witch-hunt.” 

A good case can be made that both do.

First Trump. The polls have gone up and down like a yo-yo on this one. Polls shows that a lot of centrists and independents don’t buy the Trump line that it’s a Democratic hatchet job to get him; nor do they especially like him. But they are also sharply divided over whether impeachment is the right thing to do. They will be an outsized factor in the presidential election especially in the five or six states that actually decide who sits in the White House.

The House vote on the impeachment inquiry proved what everyone knows. That it will be almost exclusively a Democratic show. Despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doing back stretch contortions to make the impeachment inquiry bill of goods against Trump politically palatable, not a single Republican House member backed the effort.

Instead, top House Republicans almost outdid Trump in ruthlessly saber-rattling the inquiry. Check out their sampling of choice epithets, “sham,” “a cult,” and “a coup.”

They even dredged up the Founding Fathers to make their case that impeachment is nothing more than a partisan stunt to satisfy hopped-up progressive Democrats who have been screaming for Trump’s head from day one.

Trump revels in this. He will spend all of 2020 ranting, fulminating, lambasting, hectoring, lampooning and ridiculing the impeachment move and the Democrats before his enraptured audiences in carefully hand-picked venues. Those venues will conveniently be in one or more of those five or six states that the presidency hangs on.

In between there will be an around the clock tsunami tweet storm from Trump ripping impeachment that will jam news airwaves. His theme will be the same.

He’s a political martyr being nailed to the cross by vengeful, vindictive, sore loser Democrats who have been stewing with rage that they couldn’t beat him fair and square at the polls in 2016 and stewing with anxiety that they can’t beat him in 2020. Senate Republicans have slavishly parroted the same line.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear the chance of winning the grand lottery without buying a ticket is greater than getting a Trump conviction in the Senate. Toss in Trump’s choke-a-horse campaign cash, the bully pulpit of the presidency, an apparent humming economy, and his hidden kicker of race and immigrant bashing and Trump has a lot of marbles in the ring.

His impeachment martyrdom spin just ads one more to it.

Now Pelosi and the Democrats. Some polls have ticked up showing that more Americans are warming up to the idea of impeachment. And a lot of them do agree with Pelosi when she said that Trump “is making lawlessness a virtue.” His brazen flout of nearly every legal and political convention in the books in everything from his borderline tax evasion to playing footsie with Putin up to including even more borderline possible election tampering is well documented.

Every day there’s a new revelation about Trump’s blatant quid pro quo deal making with the Ukraine and China to hammer Joe Biden.

The vote on the impeachment inquiry was a good win in that only two fearful Democrats broke ranks and said no to it. Just as Trump will play impeachment for all its worth to further fire up his base, Democrats will do the same, waving impeachment as proof that the party is not afraid to hit back hard at Trump even with the peril of it backfiring.

The big risk that made Pelosi hesitate for so long in going after Trump with impeachment was that a hard push on this would imperil moderate Democrats in the swing districts up for reelection. Democrats are confident that the tide for the inquiry is rolling so much in their favor that this risk is now off the table.

While Trump will play impeachment for all its worth to his crowd, he’s got to be bothered by the taint of the prospect of being only the third president impeached on his head as the 2020 presidential campaign gathers steam.

There’s much ahead in the impeachment drama. The Democrats will walk on eggshells trying to make sure that all their legal letters are dotted and crossed. They know that Trump will pounce hard on even the tiniest misstep during their course of fleshing out the impeachment charges against him.

At all costs, Pelosi and the Democrats must go to every extreme to show that the inquiry is fair and balanced, and not a political vendetta against Trump. That won’t be easy.

It’s a high stakes game with the political success or failure of impeachment riding on convincing a majority that impeachment is not “the greatest witch-hunt in American history.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Who Can Beat Trump?: America’s Choice 2020.” He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.