The Framers are, to the 45th president, mere rumors. They, however, knew him, as a type — a practitioner of what Alexander Hamilton (in Federalist 68) disdainfully called “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” Post-1/6 America has a quickened appreciation of how those “little arts,” when magnified by modern modes of mass communication as wielded by occupants of the swollen modern presidency, make civilization’s brittle crust crumble.
Intelligent people of goodwill disagree about the constitutionality of an impeachment trial of a former president. Forty-four Republican senators voted (generally less from constitutional conviction than from political convenience) to truncate the trial. They lost, but their role as jurors remained. In that constitutional role their duty was to decide whether the president’s two months of inciting what occurred on 1/6 constituted an impeachable offense. Saturday’s revelations about Donald Trump’s comportment during the riot — redundant evidence of his character, surprising to no senator — were no match for 100 senators’ unifying desire to spend a week away from the Senate.
The presentation by the House impeachment managers was a demonstration, the more welcome for its rarity, of congressional conscientiousness and meticulousness. Congress is an investigating institution, for three purposes: To establish the need for particular legislation. To provide oversight of the operation of existing laws and the institutions they undergird. And to inform voters about matters that they must understand in order for representative government to function. The investigative aspect of impeachment proceedings serves this third purpose.
Information is inherently good, and the trial was a cornucopia of information about the sights and sounds of 1/6. And about the Republican Party. Its congressional membership overwhelmingly says, and perhaps believes, that 1/6, and the low presidential intrigues that preceded it, were not violations of the presidential oath to defend the Constitution.
As the trial proceeded, there appeared a new aspirant for membership in the Republican senators’ large Lout Caucus: Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Ted Cruz (Tex.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), et al. In Ohio, Josh Mandel announced his candidacy to replace Rob Portman, the temperate conservative and meticulous legislator who is retiring in 2022. Mandel said the impeachment “got my blood boiling to the point where I decided to run.” His blood boils frequently: This will be his third Senate run.
His agenda for creating a more perfect union is “to pulverize the uni-party,” meaning “this group of Democrats and Republicans who sound exactly the same and are more interested in getting invited to the cocktail party circuit than they are in standing up for the Constitution.” With his stupefying unoriginality, Mandel sounds exactly like innumerable congressional Republicans who clawed their way to Washington by espousing an anti-Washington-cocktail-circuit stance as conservatism. Mandel has perfect pitch for populism’s rhetorical banalities.
Were he to win, he would occupy the seat once held by Robert A. Taft Sr., the son of a president, and one of the five senators (with Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Calhoun and Robert La Follette Sr.) first honored with portraits in the Capitol’s Senate Reception Room. Taft’s wife was once asked, “Do you think of your husband as a common man?” Aghast, she replied: “Oh, no, no! The senator is very uncommon. He was first in his class at Yale and first in his class at the Harvard Law School. We wouldn’t permit Ohio to be represented in the Senate by just a common man.”
Taft was known as “Mr. Republican.” Seventy years later, Mandel is an increasingly common Republican. Today’s two major parties have framed political competition since the middle of the 19th century — since the Republicans rose from the rubble of the Whigs. An essential conservative insight about everything is that nothing necessarily endures. Care must be taken. The Republican Party will wither if the ascendant Lout Caucus is the face it presents to this nation of decent, congenial people.