One could hardly be surprised that self-identified pro-choice Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — who talked herself into supporting the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh on the grounds that the conservative jurist, picked off a list approved by right-to-lifers, would uphold Roe v. Wade (!) — would concoct some rationalization for voting to acquit President Trump in his impeachment trial. In spinning out an embarrassingly weak argument for her decision to side with her party, she confirmed Tuesday on the Senate floor that the notion of an independent-minded New England Republican is as dead as Vermonter Calvin Coolidge.

Collins relied on two old saws, both warped. First, she argued that impeachment requires a crime — an assertion roundly rebuked by every legitimate legal authority and the Founders’ own words — and that the House should have charged Trump with bribery, despite all the elements of that crime appearing in the first article of impeachment. Second, she derided the House for not subpoenaing former national security adviser John Bolton, ignoring that it was Trump and his Republican accomplices who prevented him from testifying. She conceded Trump’s conduct was wrong. She simply is not willing to do anything about it.

Her explanation makes little sense, but as we have seen from other senators’ convoluted and illogical arguments, Republicans no longer think they need to persuade anyone outside the Trump cult. As a result, they further debase their role and the impeachment process.

Even worse, she told CBS’s Norah O’Donnell that Trump had “learned from this case” and would be dissuaded from courting foreign countries in the future. Trump, of course, insists he did nothing wrong and, according to news reports, is already making out his enemies list. Only a fool or someone convinced that voters are fools would posit that acquittal would reduce Trump’s lawlessness. Collins and her colleagues have given him a green light to mow down the notion that even a president is not above the law. Like clockwork, Trump later disputed Collins’s assertion that he would be chastened, reiterating that he had done nothing wrong.

“Many GOP Senators announcing their reasons for acquittal on the Senate floor today are relying on alleged process failures or on doubts that Trump did what the House alleges he did,” constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me. “That’s misguided and in many instances seems dishonest. But it’s not nearly as dangerous as relying on the wholly unfounded and genuinely crackpot theory that the offenses charged are just not impeachable — either because ‘abuse of power’ as such is an improperly framed ‘high crime and misdemeanor,’ or because the specific conduct alleged does not constitute the kind of abuse that is impeachable.” He continues, “That’s demonstrably wrong, regardless of one’s approach to constitutional interpretation, whether textualist or originalist or evolutionary or functional or eclectic. No reputable constitutional scholar — not one — defends that theory or has defended it from the founding to the present.”

It only makes sense if one remembers that the Republicans have adhered to their position not out of conviction but out of fear and careerism, and then had staff members come up with some half-baked rationale to justify what they already wanted to do. It is a reflection, as Tribe observes, of just “how cowed the Cult of Trump has become and how reckless they have become about the precedent their willingness to follow him might help establish.” It is a reminder that Collins and the other craven Republicans must be held accountable in November, if we are to preserve any semblance of separation of powers and restraint on the executive branch.

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