In one such construction, the Associated Press reports that Democrats are struggling to “convince skeptical Republicans” that the former president incited the assault on the Capitol. In another, a New York Times reporter claims Democrats “face an uphill climb in persuading” Republicans to convict.
This implies that Republican senators are weighing the evidence against Trump on its substantive merits and are moving toward rejecting it on grounds of principled disagreement. But is there any serious reason to believe this applies to the vast majority of GOP senators?
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s (R-S.C.) latest exercise in toadying on Fox News should lay this idea to rest. It’s worth watching because it previews where most elected Republicans will end up coming down on this whole affair.
Mark it now: The vast majority of them will agree that the storming of the Capitol was an abomination and that the perpetrators must be held to account. But little by little, many will migrate to a place where Trump himself is absolutely and comprehensively exonerated from any culpability for inciting it in any way.
Indeed, we may even get to the point where the vast majority of them entirely absolve Trump’s underlying claims of a stolen election — never mind Trump himself — of any responsibility for inciting the assault.
Graham’s absurd toadying
Graham’s appearance on Fox shows how this will unfold. He leaned heavily on the notion that because some rioters planned Jan. 6 in advance, Trump couldn’t have incited it with his harangue that day.
“The FBI and the Capitol Hill police actually now understand this was preplanned,” Graham said. “So the whole story line that Donald Trump caused this by his speech has fallen apart due to good law enforcement activity.”
Graham added that he wonders whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was aware that groups had planned violence before the House impeached Trump.
“Here’s what I want to know,” Graham continued. “What did Nancy Pelosi know and when did she know it?”
It’s hard to overstate how insultingly stupid this argument really is. As I have detailed, law enforcement investigations have actually produced evidence that is more damning for Trump in this regard.
Many of the rioters who “preplanned” their appearance have explicitly declared that they did so because they understood — correctly — that Trump wanted them to. And the timeline shows that Trump himself spent weeks encouraging them to prepare for a final apocalyptic struggle, a last stand, on that day.
What’s more, Trump’s precise use of language throughout was designed to persuade them that they were the victims of a tyrannical injustice, prepping them to go to war to reverse it, to save themselves and their country (MAGA Nation) by any means necessary. Trump’s language on Jan. 6 was itself clear incitement, but the weeks leading up to that day are just as damning.
But something more fundamental here needs further explication: In saying these things, Graham is effectively treating this entire body of utterly damning factual evidence against Trump as if it simply didn’t exist at all.
The great erasure is underway
To understand how deranged this is, look at Graham’s evolution. On the night after the attack, Graham blasted the lie that the election’s outcome was illegitimate, asserting that Joe Biden had legitimately been elected president and that the effort to overturn the results in Congress was unacceptable.
“All I can say is count me out,” Graham said then. “Enough is enough.”
In saying this, Graham was acknowledging that the lies about the election had inspired the attack, and said these lies had to stop. But this is precisely what is now being memory-holed in Graham’s narrative.
In his Fox appearance, Graham claimed: “The not-guilty vote is growing after today. I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House managers offensive and absurd.”
But much of the Wednesday presentation was devoted to illustrating exactly how Trump spent months building up the lie of the election’s illegitimacy — precisely the thing Graham previously decried for inspiring the attack.
Now all this has simply been erased as a cause of it. It’s absurd enough to claim that those who preplanned the events of Jan. 6 couldn’t have been inspired by Trump’s months of ongoing incitement. It’s even more ridiculous to entirely sever the central motivating lie Trump told all throughout from what eventually happened.
But this is where most elected Republicans will end up as well. Just look at the silly evasions we’re now getting from Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri:
And from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida:
We keep hearing Republicans will use the bogus claim that former presidents can’t be convicted in an impeachment to avoid taking a stand on what Trump actually did. They will also express great horror about the attack itself, as many did after Wednesday’s presentation.
But another endpoint here for many Republicans will be to erase the big lie that Trump told for months from this whole terrible saga. In so doing, of course, they will be erasing their own complicity as well, since many conspired to prop up that lie for much of the same period.
It’s true that a handful of Republican senators appear to be genuinely weighing the evidence. But anyone watching Graham’s wretched appearance (or Rubio’s or Blunt’s) really should exercise extreme skepticism before assuming most of the others are doing the same.