“If we don’t draw the line here, what’s next?” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager, asked the senators. “Is there any political leader in this room who believes that, if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way? … If he gets back into office and it happens again, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.”
It has been five years since Trump marveled at his own ability to incite. “I bring rage out,” he told The Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. “I always have.” And, as Raskin and his colleagues outlined, Trump brought rage on a grand scale.
Encouraging violence at his campaign rallies (“knock the crap out of them,” “I will pay for the legal fees”). Calling the sucker-punch of a demonstrator “very, very appropriate” and something we need “more of.” Calling the Republican candidate who assaulted a journalist “my kind of guy.” Saying there were “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis who marched, with lethal violence, in Charlottesville. Defending the armed militia members who stormed the Michigan Capitol and threatened to kill the governor. Retweeting the guy who said “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” and who later warned that “there’s going to be blood running out of that [Capitol] building.” Celebrating his supporters who tried to run a Biden campaign bus off a highway. Whipping up fury at public officials such as the Georgia secretary of state, resulting in death threats.
Those are just a few mileposts in Trump’s marathon of incitement, culminating in his invaders’ Jan. 6 attack, and his refusal for hours to do anything to call off the riot as it unfolded, or to send help to besieged lawmakers and overwhelmed police.
The House managers offered extensive evidence documenting Trump’s conceptualizing, organizing, inflaming and praising of the mob. Perhaps the most damning evidence of his culpability came from the attackers themselves. As one member of Trump’s mob shouted to the crowd at the Capitol on Jan. 6: “We were invited here. We were invited by the president of the United States.”
Or, as one of the insurrectionists said in a live stream from the Capitol on the day of the rampage: “He’ll be happy. We are fighting for Trump.”
One of the impeachment managers, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), cited a defense lawyer for a man charged in the attack: “He was there at the invitation of our president, who said ‘walk down Pennsylvania Avenue’ with him.” The lawyer for a leader of the violent extremist Proud Boys (and among the first rioters to break into the Capitol) also said Trump “invited” the action: “These were people acting in a way they have never acted before, and it begs the question, ‘Who lit the fuse?’ ”
Of course, the Proud Boys had been violent before. But I’ve long seen Trump’s ability to transform previously calm people into something frightening. Back in 2016, covering a Trump rally while mixed with the crowd, I wrote that for four hours before Trump arrived, “I heard nothing racist or angry or paranoid in their conversations. But once Trump arrived, they became ominously transfixed and aggressive. They pumped their fists … and hung on the candidate’s every word — often with looks of ecstasy and some visibly trembling.” They lustily cheered Trump’s violent utterances (“our country is going to hell,” “they’re chopping off heads”).
Republican senators surely have to know Trump is guilty of inciting the bloody coup attempt. Trump-boosting Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) confided to reporters this week that he had told Trump by phone, in real time, that Vice President Mike Pence was being evacuated (a few steps ahead of would-be assassins, it turned out), even as Trump was attacking Pence on Twitter. Trump later defended the “patriots” who committed the Jan. 6 atrocities and said his own words that day (“If you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore”) had been “totally appropriate.” The Republican senators know this as surely as Jim Mattis, John Kelly, John Bolton and all the other onetime Trump advisers who affixed the blame on Trump.
The question is whether Republican senators will surrender to their political terror of defying Trump — even knowing that acquitting him will encourage more insurrection. “Impeachment,” DeGette suggested to the senators, “is not to punish but to prevent.”
If they vote to acquit, Republican senators will be inviting Trump to try to retake the White House with even more violence. How many more will die because of it?