Every theater rat knows that closing night is even tougher than the debut.
After all the auditions, the practices, the blocking, the tech rehearsals, the dress rehearsals, the opener, and the full run, the final performance usually comes quicker than expected.
Exhausted and emotional, nerves are as raw as they were during callbacks. The leading man glances around at his castmates one last time, realizing he’ll never have the same experience again. A bow to the orchestra pit, a gesture to the lighting crew, roses for the director, and a prolonged, bittersweet wave to the crowd—then the heavy red curtain slowly closes the stage off from the cheering audience.
The show, the ensemble must accept, is over.
In what presumably was his final encore Thursday afternoon, U.S. Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) bid an emotional farewell to his long run as the lead role in his impeachment inquiry, a.k.a. “The Schiff Show.” As the lights dimmed and folks headed for an early exit, Schiff choked up during his closing monologue.
“In my view, there is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who believes they are above the law,” Schiff emoted, voice trembling, tears welling. “And I would just say to people watching here at home and around the world [dramatic pause] . . . we are better than that!” Voice breaking, Schiff then gaveled his theater to a close.
A ‘Low-Rent Ukrainian Sequel’
But the Schiff Show didn’t go as planned. The original script from the wannabe screenwriter was a dark drama of collusion, animated by raven-haired Russian lawyers, secret Kremlin operatives, shady Manhattan attorneys, and the president’s eldest son. The climax—Bad Orange Man ousted from the Oval Office—would end with a thunderous standing ovation from the Beltway gallery.
Instead, Schiff starred in what Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) memorably called the “low-rent Ukrainian sequel.” Schiff’s off-Broadway cast included not marquee White House advisors but Foggy Bottom B-listers airing their personal grudges on national television. Rather than produce a damning highlight reel of impeachable offenses, the bitter bureaucrats displayed the sort of arrogance and entitlement that Americans are sick of seeing from well-paid public employees who are supposed to work for us.
Sure, Schiff coaxed a few dramatic moments. An ousted ambassador struggling to keep her emotions in check while describing how she got fired and had to quickly depart the Kyiv mansion she had (literally) called home for three years.
An expert on Ukraine costumed in full Army dress uniform demanding he be addressed by his military rank while complaining about mean tweets. (Oddly, Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman was spotted the next day wearing a civilian business suit and preening for news cameras.)
A self-important foreign-affairs advisor with a stuffy British accent lecturing Republican lawmakers. Another ambassador complaining about “irregular channels” of diplomacy between two heads of state that didn’t involve his self-important counsel.
A lot of listless dialogue about feelings and innermost thoughts and interpretations and assumptions.
A Show Without a Climax
But the trailer for “12 Angry Bureaucrats” happened toward the end of Schiff’s two-week run on Thursday afternoon. One State Department aide acted-out how the U.S. ambassador to the European Union handled his cell phone during a conversation with President Trump when the two allegedly discussed the “quid pro quo” with Ukraine.
Holding an imaginary cell phone to his ear, eavesdropper David Holmes explained that during “the initial part of the call, Ambassador Sondland . . . when the president came on the call, he sort of winced and held the phone away from his ear.” Holmes then demonstrated to Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) how Sondland moved his cell phone several inches from his ear to soften the president’s voice then back to his ear.
That actually happened: Not necessarily the incident but the full depiction of it. (By the way, Ratcliffe’s stink-eye as Holmes struggled to describe the scene is priceless.)
The visualization, however, demonstrated how ludicrous Schiff’s entire charade has been. Impeachment, as many have noted, is based on a game of modern-day telephone tag with Trump-hating partisans whispering to each other what they heard someone else tell someone else. Trouble is, we already have the script.
The climax to the Schiff Show never materialized. There’s no smoking gun or soiled blue dress or missing tapes. There isn’t even a smoking cell phone—just grievances from One-Hit Wonders who quickly will be forgotten by the American public to the extent any normal person has been watching. Until, at least, you see a chyron with “CNN Foreign Affairs Contributor Fiona Hill” or a book tour featuring the Vindman Twins.
Schiff will be especially remembered for one moment: His frequent gaveling down of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). Schiff unwittingly recreated “A Star is Born,” catapulting Stefanik to hero-status in the Republican Party and helping fill her campaign coffers with new donors.
On the flip side, the Biden family must not be too pleased with Schiff’s theatrics. The reckoning coming to Hunter Biden for his shady dealings with one of the world’s most corrupt countries looms on the other side of Capitol Hill.
Democratic presidential candidates and the news media can continue to avoid the issue; Senate Republicans will not. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security committee and no Trump suck-up, is threatening to subpoena both Bidens during the conviction phase of impeachment. This could happen just as a disoriented Joe Biden trolls for votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Ironically, Schiff himself may be subpoenaed as a fact witness for concocting the impeachment fiction.
Not exactly the happy ending the Democrats were hoping for.
Impeachment Can’t Save This Listless Field
But the most consequential episode of “The Schiff Show” occurred on stage left this week: The Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday night.
Between weird proclamations from former Vice President Joe Biden that he’s from the black community to Senator Bernie Sanders’ well-worn rantings to Kamala Harris’s indignant nonsense to Elizabeth Warren’s pledge to build more free public housing and tear down the southern border wall, one thing was clear: None of the present Democratic candidates have the appeal, gusto, or agenda to beat Donald Trump
Democrats—including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) who just admitted that impeachment is a way to prevent a “potentially disastrous outcome from occurring next year”—are publicly acknowledging their weak field and fear that, unless Trump is forcibly removed from office, he will be re-elected next November.
No matter how much the Democrats try to dress this up as a legitimate impeachment based on bribery or quid pro quo or obstruction of justice or Twitter-witness tampering, the American people can see through the farce. Polls in Wisconsin, a state with 10 critical electoral votes, show Trump beating every major Democrat; the president’s job approval rating is at 46 percent according to Rasmussen, a reason-defying figure considering the ongoing crusade against him.
So the curtain closes on ”The Schiff Show.” The next act will be staged at the House Judiciary Committee, starring Rep. Jerold Nader (D-N.Y.).
The nation’s capital will remain hostage to a rampage against a president that began hours after he was elected while Democrats ignore the issues that Americans truly care about. Democratic candidates and lawmakers will have plenty of explaining to do on the campaign stump next year; if they fail to capture the White House, and possibly even lose control of the House once again, one person will own most of the blame. Schiff might have exited the stage but his impeachment reel is forever.