Last week, I promised an evaluation of the electoral prospects for Republicans based on each of four potential paths forward for the party. I’ll return to that topic next week, but this week, the failure of enough Senate Republicans to join all 50 Democrats and convict Trump in his impeachment trial for incitement to insurrection merits our attention.
Let’s first dispense with the notion that the various defenses offered of Trump here carry water. One objection (over which there was a vote) pertained to the idea that it is unconstitutional to impeach a former president. First, it was Mitch McConnell’s own obstructionism that resulted in the trial being held after Biden’s inauguration rather than before. Second, it should be obvious that if the Senate cannot try a former president for impeachment, a president could conduct all manner of impeachable offenses immediately before his successor’s inauguration.
A second objection is that Trump’s speech at the rally (before the attack on the Capitol) is protected by the first amendment. This objection is both an act of goalpost-shifting and specious on the merits. Trump’s speech at the rally was only a small piece of the argument that Trump should be convicted. The argument involved Trump’s many public statements leading up to the rally, his involvement in planning the rally, his statements at the rally, his statements later that day, his action (or inaction) during the attack on the Capitol, and his utter lack of remorse.
Moreover, criminal offense isn’t the bar that needs to be cleared for impeachment. Ask yourself, would the attack on the Capitol happened but for the actions of Donald Trump? The clear answer is no. Had he not propagated for months the big lie—that the election was stolen—there would have been no attack. Had he not told his supporters to go to the Capitol at the rally, there would have been no attack. Had he told his supporters not to enter the Capitol, there would have been no attack.
At innumerable moments between Election Day and January 6th, Trump could have prevented a grievous and deadly assault on American democracy. The case for impeachment is that 1) not only did he not prevent this assault on American democracy, 2) he countenanced it, supported it, and reveled in it. There need not be criminal conduct for this to be evidence that Trump failed to uphold his oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.
Confronted with this reality, only 7 Republican Senators were willing to acknowledge the obvious truth before our eyes: Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Richard Burr, Pat Toomey, Bill Cassidy, and Ben Sasse. 43 of their colleagues were content to perpetuate the gaslighting of America by sustaining the fiction that Donald Trump ever had the best interests of Americans at heart.
These 43 fall into two camps: the cowards and the fascists. The cowards are those (like Mitch McConnell) who believe that Trump did wrong, but pretend to believe that there was some technical reason to vote against convicted him. They are too afraid of their own voters and the potential loss of power to make a full break with Trump. The fascists are those (like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley) who believe that no form of Democratic governance is legitimate. They believe that Democrats win only when elections are corrupt and no form or amount of Democratic governance is legitimate. They believe power itself is more important than the democratic process.
Both the cowards and the fascists believe that their electoral prospects are better in a future with Trump than a future without him. It is our obligation to remind voters in every one of their elections henceforth that they betrayed their country for power.
The performance of the Democratic House impeachment managers should not go without commendation. Their arguments and presentation of the facts were exceptional. Jamie Raskin (MD), Joe Neguse (CA), and Stacey Plaskett (Delegate from the US Virgin Islands) stood out as particularly fine prosecutors in the case, but the entire team performed admirably. It’s difficult to imagine an alternative version where some different presentation of the facts would have resulted in conviction. Republican Senators simply wouldn’t have let that happen.
It is still possible that criminal or civil proceedings will find Trump guilty of any one of a number of different crimes related to the insurrection. If you are looking for further reasons for optimism, David Frum’s piece in The Atlantic makes the case that the bipartisan nature of the vote (and not just from known Trump detractors like Romney and Murkowski) undermines Trump’s ability to make a political comeback. And Frum, coming as he does from the center-right, remains optimistic that Trump’s role moving forward will be of “party-wrecker” rather than kingmaker. I’m skeptical.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about 6 potential ways to prevent the next coup. Option 1 (removing pro-coup elected officials) is clearly off the table. A majority of the Republican Party is pro-coup. That means Democrats must refocus on the things they can control: implementing electoral reforms (HR1), rebalancing national political power (DC and PR statehood), and passing popular legislation that attracts more voters ($1.9T stimulus package).
If you read anything this week, I recommend a pairing of two pieces. First, read Vann Newkirk in The Atlantic, on the history of the Voting Rights Act. Then, read Ari Berman in Mother Jones on what he calls, “the most concerted effort to roll back voting rights in decades.”
At The Cut, Madeleine Aggeler documents a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.