This record matters. We often like to pretend that we can move on and forget the past. But our judgments about the past inevitably shape our future. Every political era is, in part, a reaction to the failures — perceived and real — of the previous one. The Hoover-Coolidge Republicans loomed large for two generations of Democrats. Ronald Reagan built a thriving movement by calling out what he successfully cast as the sins of liberalism.
By tying themselves to Trump with their votes, most House and Senate Republicans made themselves complicit in his behavior. And Trump will prove to be even more of an albatross than Hoover, who, after all, had a moral core.
Given the chance to cast a vote making clear that what Trump did was reprehensible, only seven Republicans in the Senate and 10 in the House took the opportunity to do so.
You can tell how worried Republicans are that they are now the Trump Party by the contortions of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who aided Trump almost to the end. Rarely has a politician been more blatant in attempting the impossible feat of running with the foxes and hunting with the hounds.
Moments after voting to let Trump off — “on a technicality,” as Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas shrewdly observed about many GOP “not guilty” votes justified by anything and everything but the question of guilt itself — McConnell blistered the inciter in chief in a speech the impeachment managers could have written.
His words told the world who won the argument. They also underscored how wrenching it will be for Republican politicians to appease the GOP’s Trump-supporting majority while pretending to be another party altogether.
The fact that only seven Senate Republicans bolted should end the absurd talk that there is a burden on President Biden to achieve a bipartisan nirvana in Washington. If most Republicans can’t even admit that what Trump did is worthy of impeachment, how can anyone imagine that they would be willing and trustworthy governing partners?
The case for ending the filibuster is now overwhelming. There are not 10 Republican Senate votes to be had on anything that really matters.
All the Republicans who broke with Trump deserve honor and respect. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how this varied group could either form the core of an alternative kind of Republicanism or be consistent governing partners with Biden.
Yes, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine could be helpful on some issues. The work of Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah on a child tax credit suggests he may be trying to construct a problem-solving sort of conservatism the country needs. Maybe he’ll be joined in this by Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. But Sasse is even more conservative than Romney and his moral break with Trump does not portend any sort of larger rupture with party orthodoxy.
Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania are not running for reelection, and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, whose impeachment vote may have taken the most courage of all, is under fierce attack from his Trumpist-dominated state party.
If Republicans are at sea about what to do with Trump, Democrats showed unity of purpose. Democratic senators from states that Trump carried (Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio) also deserve points for courage. But the fact that their votes were never really in doubt showed the extent to which Trump’s post-election lawlessness has made him yesterday’s man.
It’s a sign of how far and how fast the ex-president has fallen that opponents of impeachment rationalized their votes by saying, as McConnell did, that Trump must still confront the “criminal justice system” and “civil litigation.” You’re in trouble when your would-be friends are saying you should be prosecuted rather than impeached.
All of which strengthens the hand of a president whose central campaign theme was a warning against the threat that Trump posed to democracy itself. A bipartisan majority of 57 senators and 232 House members has now declared that Joe Biden was right.