So I tuned in to the House impeachment debate on Wednesday, with popcorn and a cup of coffee close at hand, full of anticipation. Would this be the day when the Republican Party finally began to turn the page on the odious Trump era? Would this be the moment when the GOP rediscovered some higher principle beyond “Trump can do no wrong”? I was searching hard for signs of hope, and I found a few — but not nearly as many as I would have liked.
For the most part, the Republican members of House who rose to speak sounded just like the anchors and guests on Fox News — which is no doubt where most of their tedious talking points came from. Few Republicans actually defended what Trump did in inciting a mob to invade the Capitol — just as a year ago, when Trump was last impeached, few defended his attempted blackmail of Ukraine. Once again, Republicans resorted to denial and deflection.
Most of their arguments this time were procedural — claiming that House Democrats were rushing the impeachment process by not holding hearings and gathering witnesses. Of course, if Democrats were to launch a lengthy investigation, Republicans would argue that it’s too late to impeach after Trump leaves office. They simply have no credibility complaining about the process, given that Senate Republicans refused to call any witnesses during Trump’s first impeachment trial. And, for that matter, Senate Republicans trampled on democratic norms by refusing even to hold confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court during his last year in office and then rushing to confirm Trump’s choice right before an election he lost.
Republicans bring up due process for the same reason that criminal defense lawyers often make procedural objections: because they can’t challenge the overwhelming evidence of their client’s guilt.
Another GOP tactic is whataboutism — citing alleged Democratic offenses to excuse Trump’s misconduct. They could not, of course, find any evidence that Democrats had masterminded an attack on the Capitol. So they simply lied and claimed that Democrats had approved of violence during Black Lives Matter protests. In point of fact, leading Democrats from Joe Biden on down consistently denounced the violence; Biden certainly never called on anti-racism protesters to be “wild,” as Trump did with MAGA protesters. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) had to stoop to equating rhetorical insults against Trump from entertainers Robert De Niro, Madonna and Kathy Griffin with the storming of the Capitol. Sorry, there’s no comparison.
The Trumpist cult of victimhood was also much in evidence. It reached its ultimate absurdity with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-aligned member from Georgia, who gave her nationally televised floor speech in the House while wearing a face mask that read “Censored.”
The most consistent Republican theme was calling for unity and alleging that impeachment would be too “divisive.” To hear them tell it, the obligation to bring the nation together rests entirely with Democrats. House Republicans did not call on Trump to renounce his lies about the election, and not a single one of the 139 House Republicans who voted to toss out Biden votes last week apologized for trying to subvert democracy.
Even as they were preaching unity, Republicans were attacking Democrats. Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” captured the absurdity, tweeting: “EVERY GOP CONGRESSMAN: To all my Radical Dumbocrat colleagues: We need healing and unity. I say this not just to the Commies, but also to the Libtards.”
This House debate wasn’t as dismaying as the one during the first impeachment. Ten principled House Republicans actually voted to impeach this time around — up from zero last time. And even though House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was a no vote, he went further than most of his colleagues by admitting that “the president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters” and expressing support for a censure resolution.
But on the whole, judging by the House debate, most Republicans are not ready to move on from the worst president in U.S. history. Some are MAGA (or QAnon) true believers. Some are afraid of being physically attacked if they call Trump to account. Many others are simply afraid of the political consequences of crossing a president who still has the support of roughly 75 percent of their base.
In the end, 95 percent of House Republicans put loyalty to Trump above loyalty to the Constitution. That is not good news for the future of the GOP. Let’s hope the Senate does better, whenever it gets around to holding Trump’s trial.