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GOP Strategist Mike Murphy Discusses What Republicans Think Of Impeachment Hearings

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There was a quid pro quo. That was the testimony of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland during another marathon day of testimony on Capitol Hill. Sondland was referring to Rudy Giuliani's request that the president of Ukraine open investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma. And Sondland said everyone was in the loop, from the White House to the State Department. Testimony continues on the Hill with Defense Department official Laura Cooper and David Hale, a senior State Department official. But the biggest news today was Sondland sitting before the House Intelligence Committee answering questions for hours about his work in Ukraine, his relationship with the president and how policy in Ukraine was handled by the administration. To talk about how this testimony might affect Republicans, GOP strategist Mike Murphy is with us now.

Welcome back to the program.

MIKE MURPHY: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: So I say you're here to talk about how the testimony may affect Republicans. Let's start with, do you think it will affect Republicans?

MURPHY: Well, I think it will. I think a lot of them are going to vanish for a while while they try to figure out what to do. I mean, you could tell from the committee questioning, the Republicans are kind of down to sock puppets now. They've lost - they don't have an argument other than, well, it doesn't count, which is nothing. So I think the political pain dramatically increased today. But what they're going to be doing is watching polls to see if Republican-base voters, the people they care about in their primaries, are starting to move. And then it would be very bad for the president.

SHAPIRO: Well, look. Democrats right now are saying that they expect a vote on impeachment before the end of the year. And Republicans in the House are saying they expect not a single defection from their caucus, that not one Republican in the House would vote for impeachment. Do you think that confidence is justified?

MURPHY: Well, I think it'll be overwhelming. I'm not sure there won't be a few defectors. But I think that the House Republicans who are the most tribal of the two Republican conferences - Senate and House - are going to stick with the ship, so to speak, because they're - a lot of them are hostages to their primary voters. It's a portrait in non-courage, but it's raw politics. The question will all come down to the Senate, where it is a very long road to get, you know, 20 Republicans to defect. But behind the scenes, I think the tension is rising quickly.

SHAPIRO: And you earlier mentioned polling and the public's view. There are polls that show almost a third of the country has not made up their mind about impeachment or could be persuaded. Do you think today's testimony was enough to persuade Americans? And if not, what could be?

MURPHY: Well, I think it will probably be seen to be quite effective among the people who are paying attention to all this, which is roughly half the country in the polling. So, you know, it takes time for this stuff to sink in. Most people aren't rabidly focused on it. But there's no doubt today was as bad of a day on national television that the president could have had. The narrative is pretty strong. He was in the middle of it. And the Democrats have, I think, a rock-solid case now to move articles of impeachment. So that political heat will increase off that news going forward. And then the Republicans are going to have a decision to make, particularly in the Senate.

SHAPIRO: Well, as someone who advises Republicans, you say that their defenses are wearing thin and that the president is having a bad day. Given that politically, you said it's not in their interest to abandon the president, where does that leave them? I mean, what would you tell them to do?

MURPHY: Well, I - you know, I'm a rabid never-Trumper. So I'm probably not the person to give them advice on how to survive a primary. But I can tell you, six months ago, very few people in the Republican Senate world thought we could lose the majority, which is what counts there. Now I think it is very much in play because senators who were safe are now being put into danger by the president's declining political situation. And if they vote to bail him out in the Senate, to block this as the evidence mounts, the casualties that could be taken are those actual senators, people like Joni Ernst in Iowa, Thom Tillis in North Carolina. So we could lose the majority, which would be devastating. And that's something they're extremely afraid of. And that might cause rethink.

SHAPIRO: Briefly before we have to wrap up - tomorrow's the last day of scheduled testimony, though others could be added after Thanksgiving. What do you think each side needs to do before these hearings are over?

MURPHY: Well, the Republicans desperately need to find some narrative here to defend the president because it's become a clown show on their side. And the Democrats just need to land the plane. They've got the aide who heard the phone call. That'll be a nice kind of final flourish - and rest their case. It's been made powerfully by these career people.

SHAPIRO: Republican strategist Mike Murphy is one half of the podcast "Hacks On Tap," which he hosts with Democrat David Axelrod.

Thanks for joining us today.

MURPHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.