“Exactly how we go forward, I’m going to coordinate with the president’s lawyers. . . . My hope is that there won’t be a Republican who votes for either of these articles of impeachment,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said last week in an interview with Trump’s unofficial minister of propaganda, Fox News host Sean Hannity.
The president’s Republican defenders in the House have relied heavily on the “no harm, no foul” defense, arguing that Trump’s Ukraine bribery scheme ultimately failed. But the crime that led to impeachment proceedings against Nixon — the bugging of Democratic National Committee headquarters — was unsuccessful, too, because the Watergate burglars, like Trump, were caught in the act.
Being nabbed during the commission of a crime is evidence of guilt, not innocence.
Nixon tried his best to obstruct the Watergate investigation, going so far as to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the “Saturday Night Massacre.” But Nixon only took such a drastic step — which ultimately backfired — because he knew the investigation would uncover facts that were sure to turn the nation, and his party, against him.
Trump has no such worry about the GOP. He has taken the route of total and complete obstruction — itself an impeachable act — by refusing to cooperate with the House inquiry and denying requests for witnesses and documents without claiming any legitimate reason to do so. Nixon knew and feared that Republicans would affirm, in the end, the duty of Congress to serve as a check on the executive. Trump knows, however, that whatever the Constitution might say, today’s quisling Republican Party will have his back.
The maddening thing is that there are Republicans in Congress who will go on at length about Trump’s gross unfitness for office and the danger he poses to the nation and the world — but only off the record. Switch on the television cameras, and they start spewing the word salad that is supposed to exonerate Dear Leader Trump from all wrongdoing: “Burisma, CrowdStrike, Hunter Biden, Steele dossier . . .”
Trump has even turned law-and-order Republicans into fiery critics of the FBI. They sound like 1960s campus radicals as they rail against abuses and warn of the dawning of a police state. It would be nice if this new GOP concern for civil liberties were genuine. It would be nice if they were as concerned about electronic surveillance of, say, Muslim religious scholars and Chinese American computer scientists as they are about surveillance of Carter Page. But, of course, they are not.
Nixon was, despite his famous denial, a crook. Most Republicans stuck with him until the evidence became overwhelming, at which point the dam broke. The House has amassed more than enough evidence to prove that Trump is a crook, too. Unlike Nixon, however, Trump is essentially asserting that Congress has no power over him whatsoever. He is claiming some sort of divine right to do whatever he pleases — and he thinks he has congressional Republicans so cowed that they will meekly go along.
He is probably right. But there will be a reckoning.
If the House impeaches and the Senate acquits without even pretending to conduct a serious trial, Republicans who represent safe districts and bright-red states will be fine in November. All others will struggle to explain their dereliction of constitutional duty.
And Trump, under this scenario, will become the first impeached president to seek reelection. Many Republicans are so under Trump’s spell that they believe impeachment will somehow be a plus for him. They deserve — and, given the polls, will suffer — the rudest of awakenings.