The latest to join this self-delusion caucus is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “I believe that the president has learned from this case,” she told CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell on Tuesday, expanding on a floor speech in which she announced — surprise — her vote to acquit. “The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson.”
O’Donnell wasn’t buying it. “But the president says he did nothing wrong. Why do you think he learned something?” she asked.
“He was impeached,” Collins repeated, in a demonstration of the eternal sunshine of the spotless senatorial mind. “And there has been criticism by both Republican and Democratic senators of his call. I believe that he will be much more cautious in the future.”
Right. Then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn warned Trump that he risked being impeached if he persisted in his obstructive conduct in the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly recounted warning Trump that he would be impeached if he hired a “yes man” to replace Kelly.
So the reasons to think Trump has, finally, learned the lesson and will adjust his behavior accordingly are precisely zero. You cannot learn a lesson if you continue to insist that your behavior was perfect. Collins offered a concise summary of the problems with Trump’s behavior: “Because the president of the United States should not be asking a foreign country to investigate a political rival. That is just improper. It was far from a perfect call.”
Correct. But that is not what Trump believes. There was Trump tweeting the day before the Collins interview, decrying the “totally partisan Impeachment Hoax.” Lesson learned — not.
The human capacity for self-delusion is exceeded only by the politician’s capacity for self-justification. Aspects of both might be at play here. And Collins, as I mentioned, is not alone. There was Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “I think that he knows now that, if he is trying to do certain things — whether it’s ferreting out corruption there, in Afghanistan, whatever it is — he needs to go through the proper channels,” Ernst said. Uh huh. Trump. Proper channels. Right.
There was Indiana Sen. Mike Braun on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” similarly, willfully delusional. Trump, observed host Chuck Todd, is “going to take acquittal and think, ‘I can keep doing this.’ ” Braun begged to differ: “No, I don’t think that. Hopefully, it’ll be instructive.”
Todd was skeptical, to put it mildly. “When you say ‘hopefully,’ I mean, what’s the evidence in his lifetime that he takes any sort of whatever it is, a misdemeanor ticket or whatever, and then he accepts that and goes, ‘Yeah, I’ll change my behavior?’ ” he asked.
Braun had his optimism, and he was sticking to it. “I think he’ll put two and two together. In this case, he was taken to the carpet. . . . I think he’ll be instructed by what has occurred here. And certainly any individual would want to avoid whatever might need to be modified to go through this again.”
Have these people been watching this president? He revels in touching the hot stove. And why would he not keep touching it? It’s not only that Republican senators won’t assure that the president feels the burn — they won’t even call witnesses who might burn him.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, fresh off his no-witness vote, joined the suspension-of-disbelief crowd, and Todd went at it again. “If a call like that gets you an impeachment, I would think he would think twice before he did it again,” Alexander offered up.
Of all the arguments to make in Trump’s favor, this seems to be the most demonstrably untrue — and the most reckless. Surely these senators know: It is just a matter of time until the president proves how little he learned from this supposed lesson.