FOR all the star-sized egos to be found on Capitol Hill, the place can rarely be mistaken for Hollywood. That changes with committee hearings, the most significant of which went public yesterday.

Having heard and read about the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, tens of millions of Americans and viewers worldwide were able to see yesterday what a bid to oust a president democratically looks like.

The sight did not disappoint. From the crush of cameras to the panel of politicians elevated above the fray like celestial judge and jury, it was every black and white newsreel and Hollywood movie come to life. Look closely and you could almost see the ghosts of Joe McCarthy and Arthur Miller in the room.

Opinion is split between those who see the investigation led by Congressman Adam Schiff as merely the latest in a line of unsuccessful bids to see off the President, and those who think this might be the big push that propels Mr Trump out of the White House and into retirement in Florida.

It all began not with a tweet but with an old fashioned phone call from the US president to his counterpart in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. It is alleged that Mr Trump made the newcomer an offer: dig around in the dealings in Ukraine of Joe Biden, the President’s main rival for office, and his son, or lose nearly $400 million in military aid. Enlisting the help of a foreign power to influence an American election is an offence. A whistle was duly blown.

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Mr Trump has dismissed the inquiry as a “witch hunt”. His Republican defenders say there was no quid pro quo, no investigations were held by the Ukrainians, and the money went through. So far, however, the testimony is going against him.

Is this really it, the final showdown with the ultimate political showman? Reports of The Donald’s imminent demise have been as exaggerated as they have been numerous. From campaign to presidency, allegations of sexual misconduct to claims of Russian collusion, he has fought the law of political gravity and won. It would be a brave observer who wrote him off just yet.

Looking at the most recent presidents to be charged with misconduct in public office, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, offers hope to Trump supporters and critics alike. In both instances, enough Congressmen and women put aside party allegiance to get the process going or, in the case of Nixon, convince him to jump before he was pushed. Thus far, no Republican has broken ranks against the President in the same way.

Then there is the other numbers game. A vote to impeach requires a simple majority in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, highly probable, but in the subsequent trial in the Republican-held Senate, a two thirds majority is required to convict, highly improbable.

But these barriers could fall now the public hearings have begun. Much rests on the tone set by the chairman. The Democrats know they will likely not get this chance again. They need to act cautiously but decisively, to appear defenders of the constitution rather than partisan attack dogs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “more in sorrow than in anger” approach when announcing the impeachment inquiry came across well. Mr Schiff’s introduction yesterday had more of an edge. “If this is not impeachable conduct,” he asked, “what is?”

The president himself has naturally been quick to hose the fire with gasoline via Twitter. Aside from the usual name-calling (“Shifty Schiff” being one of the milder tags) he has been in constant high dudgeon at what he sees is the unfairness of it all. Impeachment has been turned into a political cudgel he complains.

Mr Trump’s usual response to attack is to hit the road and hold a rally, so we can expect a lot more of those. In truth, from his first day in the job till now Mr Trump has never stopped campaigning for office. Out “there”, in the Trump heartlands, among supporters, is where he feels comfortable. So much for that famous aversion to being touchy feely with strangers.

He believes he can see off this attempt at impeachment. The most optimistic Republicans even reckon it could do him a lot of good with election year looming. Bill Clinton’s approval ratings began climbing after he was impeached.

Should Mr Trump manage to turn impeachment into another “us and them”, “them” being the swamp, the Washington elite, his approval ratings might stop bumping along the bottom. Already, the Republican counter-attack is pitching the President as just doing his job with Ukraine, making sure all those hard-earned American dollars were going to the right place.

For all his bluster the President has cause to be rattled. At this stage in a presidency, with the economy still doing well, a commander-in-chief can reasonably expect four more years. But the drip-drip-drip of allegations, coming so soon after the Russia claims, is piling on the pressure. Cracks in the Trump White House are beginning to show.

One obvious factor remains in Mr Trump’s favour: the lack of a clear Democrat front-runner to take him on next year. Joe Biden was a fine Veep but is struggling to convince as a POTUS in waiting; Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are too socialist; can Michael Bloomberg get ahead of the 17, count ‘em, candidates already running?

The Democrats still have time to sort themselves out, and providing nothing else happens the party can be expected to go into election year united and strong. The voters will be presented with a clear choice: four more years of Trump, or not.

There is one person who might halt that Democrat progress in its tracks. The name is not Donald but Hillary. Mrs Clinton, on a tour of the UK this week with her new latest tome, The Book of Gutsy Women, co-authored with her daughter Chelsea, came up with the old saw “never say never” when asked by BBC 5 Live’s Emma Barnett if she would run again in 2020. “I’m under enormous pressure from many, many, many people to think about it,” she said.

Having failed twice to win the presidency, one wonders who on Earth these people can be. To try a third time, perhaps on the back of the impeachment process, would be foolish. Events are moving on, and so must Mrs Clinton.