The Democrats running the House impeachment hearings are shrewdly playing the patriotism card, hoping that a patriotism narrative will displace the partisanship story the Republicans hope to plant. By making the first witnesses talk about Ukraine and Russian threats, they put the patriotic foot forward.

This is smart and may even work. It wraps the GOP in a Russian flag. It gives the persuadable part of the electorate a comfortable place to perch — standing by an ally who is standing up to Russia — that obviates a sense that a pro-impeachment voter has behaved in a partisan way. The first witnesses — Cold War patriots of the old, unimpeachable, pre-Trump world — came right out of central casting for such a positioning. Complete with bow tie!

A lot of the first day’s testimony focused on the difficult spot that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was almost put in by Trump’s pressure to do Republican favors. A wise political consultant tipped me to the following interpretation. If Zelensky were to publicly say he was launching an investigation into Clinton and the Bidens, as Trump’s weird gang was insisting he do, “to put him in a box,” Zelensky would not only risk his popularity with Ukrainian voters, but jeopardize his Democratic support in Congress. 
Turning support for Ukraine into a  partisan issue would probably be exactly what Vladimir Putin would want — a serious weakening of a country about to engage in peace talks with Russia, and one more blow to American power.

Somehow Zelensky — helped by the timely release of the whistleblower’s report and the last-minute release of the impounded military money — wriggled out of the trap. And once more, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi likes to put it, with Trump “all roads lead to Putin.” In turn, that Putin-puppet story becomes part of the flag-waving Democratic narrative, appealing to a higher patriotism in a time of war. Meanwhile, Zelensky has saved his Democratic allies in Congress, but he may have created an enemy out of Trump.

Fascinating to watch the chess match, Putin versus Schiff. Opening moves to Schiff.

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