Trump’s guilt is clear — and getting clearer all the time. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the Trump campaign paid more than $2.7 million to the individuals and firms responsible for organizing the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse where Trump told his supporters to “to fight much harder” against “bad people.” At least five individuals who face federal charges in connection with the Capitol assault have said that they were following orders from the then-president.
The New York Times has just revealed another part of Trump’s plot against America: The then-president wanted to replace acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen with a lower-ranking official intent on using the Justice Department’s power to force Georgia to overturn its election results. Trump was only dissuaded when all of the department’s senior leaders threatened to resign. This occurred shortly after Trump himself was recorded demanding that the Georgia secretary of state find the votes needed for him to win that state.
Trump’s incitement of a violent insurrection against another branch of government is the worst wrongdoing that any president — who is sworn to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” — can commit. Members of Congress and Trump’s own vice president were lucky to escape injury in the riot that he fomented.
For one fleeting moment, it appeared that the shock of these events was sufficient to scare at least some Republicans straight. Ten House Republicans voted for impeachment, including a member of the leadership, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who declared, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was almost equally scathing, saying: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
And yet the momentum to impeach Trump among Republicans is waning as rapidly as the evidence of his guilt is accumulating. “The chances of getting a conviction are virtually nil,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told CNN.
To avoid having to defend Trump’s indefensible conduct, many Republicans are taking refuge in the argument that it’s unconstitutional to impeach a president who has already left office. This is simply untrue, as more than 150 legal scholars — including a co-founder of the Federalist Society! — point out. “In 1876,” they note, “Secretary of War William Belknap tried to avoid impeachment and its consequences by resigning minutes before the House voted on his impeachment. The House impeached him anyway, and the Senate concluded that it had the power to try, convict, and disqualify former officers.”
The other popular GOP argument is that impeachment is just too darn divisive. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Sunday: “We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.” That message would be more convincing if Rubio could argue, in the words of Billy Joel, “We didn’t start the fire.” But Trump did start the fire — and congressional Republicans provided the kindling by refusing to challenge his election lies. And now they say it’s too divisive to hold a political arsonist to account?
A sign of how rapidly the GOP has shifted in the wrong direction can be found in the words of the ultimate finger-to-the-wind politician, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). During the House impeachment debate, he admitted that “the president bears responsibility” for the attack. Now he says: “I don’t believe he provoked it if you listened to what he said at the rally.”
The GOP appears more eager for retribution against Republicans who upheld their oaths of office than against a president who violated it. All 10 of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are now facing a backlash at home, with local party organizations scolding them for disloyalty and primary challengers lining up against them. Pro-Trump House members are also demanding Cheney’s ouster as chair of the House Republican conference.
The Arizona Republican Party just censured not only former senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain — who courageously supported Joe Biden — but even Gov. Doug Ducey, who supported Trump. His crime? Refusing to overturn the state’s election results.
Alexander Hamilton wrote: “The hope of impunity, is a strong incitement to sedition: the dread of punishment, a proportionably strong discouragement to it.” Republicans who want to offer Trump immunity are making themselves complicit in future sedition.