The devastating presentation by the House impeachment managers has only strengthened an already strong case. No impartial observer could possibly doubt that Trump, with his lies about election fraud, incited the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. No Trump, no attack. It’s that simple.
Trump’s complicity did not end when the first rioters stormed the citadel of democracy. House impeachment manager Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) asked senators to imagine how much damage could have been averted if Trump had immediately told the rioters to “stop the attack” with “even half as much force as he said ‘Stop the Steal.’”
Yet Trump did not tell the mob to disperse for hours, and when he finally did, he also told them: “We love you. You’re very special.” Those words of tribute are especially jarring when juxtaposed with the harrowing videos played by the House impeachment managers. I am haunted by the insurrectionist screaming like a character from a horror film, “Nancy, we’re looking for you. Oh Naaaancy! Where are you Nancy?” while searching for the House speaker. We now know that senators such as Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had narrow escapes from the violent mob. How can any senator possibly acquit a president who thinks the very people who were hunting them are “very special”?
And yet we know that almost all Republican senators will, in fact, vote to acquit. If they were speaking under the influence of truth serum, most would probably say something like this: “Sure, I know Trump is guilty as hell. I don’t like him, but my base loves him. If I vote to convict, I will soon be an ex-senator. You’ve gotta understand. I don’t want to lose my job! Heck, I don’t even want to be harassed at the airport.”
But instead of speaking the abject truth, Republicans are spinning ever more fanciful explanations for their dereliction of duty. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is an early winner in the defense-of-the-indefensible sweepstakes. “Everyone makes mistakes,” he said. “Everyone’s entitled to a mulligan once in a while.”
Um, this isn’t a round of golf. This is the future of American democracy that is at stake. And as my colleague Daniel W. Drezner notes, Trump already got his mulligan when the Senate failed to convict him during his first impeachment trial. How many more chances does he get to destroy our democracy? Does he get to keep trying until he finally succeeds?
During the first impeachment trial, some Republicans argued that they had to acquit because Trump’s attempted blackmail of Ukraine may not have been a criminal offense, even though there is no requirement that a “high crime or misdemeanor” be an actual violation of the law. This time around, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) argues that the House impeachment managers are building such a strong criminal case against Trump that it belongs in court and not in the Senate: “We can only do removal from office and then, barring someone from a future office. That’s not holding someone to account.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) agrees: “If someone thinks he committed a crime, then they need to go to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and make that argument.”
So the Senate cannot hold Trump to account for either criminal offenses or non-criminal offenses. Why don’t the Republican senators just come out and say that Republican presidents are above the law? (They would no doubt have a different view of presidential culpability if it were Joe Biden in the dock.)
Rubio also professes to be perturbed that the impeachment debate is taking the Senate’s attention away from more urgent matters such as the pandemic — “that’s what people want us to be focused on,” he intones piously. Of course, Rubio is certain to vote against President Biden’s economic relief package; he’s not even one of the 10 Republicans who are willing to negotiate its terms. So, really, he’s worried that the impeachment trial is a pesky distraction from what Republicans really want to focus on — which is obstructing Biden’s agenda.
The most common Republican reaction to the impeachment managers’ ironclad case is the senatorial equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and saying “nyah nyah nyah” over and over again. “Nothing new here,” says Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), himself one of the inciters of the insurrection. “The result of this trial is preordained,” says Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), another inciter. “We’ve had all this time for everyone to use every possible argument,” says Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.). “So I’ve heard them all.”
What Republican senators offer, in the final analysis, is a tautology: Because their minds are made up, the evidence doesn’t matter. That may be true on some level. But while that mind-set may acquit Trump, it indicts the Republicans who put tribalism over patriotism.