After the trial, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) confirmed this reality: “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty. … There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. … The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.”
McConnell still voted to acquit, on the laughable grounds that Trump was no longer president — even though it was McConnell himself who delayed the trial until after Trump was out of office. But the facts were never in dispute — and were not even particularly disputed by the president’s lawyers. As Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican, summarized, “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing.”
The Senate impeachment trial laid out that case to senators and to the American people. Lead manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and his colleagues provided a master class on the facts of the case, the Constitution and senatorial responsibility. In his summary, Raskin reminded the senators of how “rare and fragile and transitory” democracies are, and how exceptional our history of elections and the peaceful transfer of power is. As Raskin asked, if Trump’s seditious efforts to overturn the election were not an impeachable offense, what is? He called upon the senators to fulfill their historic responsibility to defend the republic.
Fifty-seven voted to convict, including 7 Republicans, the largest bipartisan vote for conviction in the history of the Republic. Forty-three Republicans refused. Cowed by Trump’s zealous base, they cravenly choose power and privilege over responsibility and principle. They made it clear their minds were made up even before the trial began. Most relied on the fanciful conceit that, since Trump was no longer in office, the Senate could not hold him responsible for the high crimes and misdemeanors he committed while in office. This mocked conservatives’ posturing as constitutional originalists, for this view surely offended both the text of the Constitution and the Framers’ original intent.
These senators should be held accountable. Citizens who care about the future of this republic should come together, across lines of party and ideology, to vote out of office those who failed in their most important responsibility.
Some in the media and some progressive activists initially directed their outrage not at the Republican senators who failed their responsibility but at the Democratic managers and leaders for not calling witnesses. Some charged that the managers “caved,” suggesting that more facts were needed, or that more witnesses might have changed minds. This is silly. As McConnell and Cheney recognized, the reality wasn’t secret. The senators were direct targets of the riot. The trial took place at the crime scene, where the mob rifled through senators’ desks. Trump’s instigation of the rioters took place over months of lies and slanders. As Raskin noted, 500 witnesses more would have made no difference, other than to lengthen the proceedings and try the patience of senators and the public alike.
In his opening remarks, Raskin quoted his late father, Marcus Raskin, the co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies: “Democracy needs a ground to stand upon. And that ground is the truth.” The senators knew the truth. The managers dramatically reminded them of it, particularly in the detailed presentation by the impressive Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands).
Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors were brazen, not hidden. But Republican senators knew they would face a blowback from Trump supporters in their own states if they held him accountable. Sadly, polls show that a majority of Republicans believe Trump’s lies about the election; half even believe that antifa was behind the attack.
No parade of witnesses could have changed the minds of senators voting to save their own seats rather than to defend the republic. The only way to concentrate their minds is for the rest of us to mobilize and defeat them at the polls for their craven failure to serve their country. Many Republicans may still be beguiled by Trump, but they are a far remove from the majority of Americans.