“Everyone is a loser. Winners are just losers with more patience.” ~ George Hammond
“If at first you don’t succeed, find out if the loser gets anything.” ~ Bill Lyon
“One must be a god to be able to tell successes from failures without making a mistake.” ~ Anton Chekhov
But it’s over, or it’s close enough to being over, and the Democrats lost:
The Senate brought President Trump to the brink of acquittal on Friday of charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress, as Republicans voted to block consideration of new witnesses and documents in his impeachment trial and shut down a final push by Democrats to bolster their case for the president’s removal.
In a nearly party-line vote after a bitter debate, Democrats failed to win support from the four Republicans they needed. With Mr. Trump’s acquittal virtually certain, the president’s allies rallied to his defense, though some conceded he was guilty of the central allegations against him.
That was the curious thing. He was guilty. But doing anything about that would tear the country apart, so let it go:
The Democrats’ push for more witnesses and documents failed 49 to 51, with only two Republicans, Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, joining Democrats in favor. A vote on the verdict is planned for Wednesday.
The Democrats needed four Republican votes so this wasn’t even close, but that doesn’t mean they shrugged and moved on:
As they approached the final stage of the third presidential impeachment proceeding in United States history, Democrats condemned the witness vote and said it would render Mr. Trump’s trial illegitimate and his acquittal meaningless.
“America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities, when the Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “If the president is acquitted, with no witnesses, no documents, the acquittal will have no value because Americans will know that this trial was not a real trial.”
The Republican response was a shrug. We won. Who cares? But some of them conceded this:
Even as they prepared to vote against removing him, several Republicans challenged Mr. Trump’s repeated assertions that he had done nothing wrong, saying they believed he had committed the main offense of which he was accused: withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats.
Still, those Republicans said, they were unwilling to remove a president fewer than 10 months before he is to face voters.
They know he tried to rig the election, and now know he will redouble those efforts, so the next election will probably be totally rigged, if he can arrange it, so let the voters decide, or something like that. But it is over, even if the winner here is very angry:
Senators recessed the trial for the weekend and will return Monday for closing arguments, with a vote on the verdict on Wednesday.
The timetable will rob Mr. Trump of the opportunity to use his State of the Union address scheduled for Tuesday night to boast about his acquittal, a prospect he has relished for several weeks. Instead, he will become the second president to deliver the speech during his own impeachment trial…
At the White House, Mr. Trump raged against a process he has dismissed from the start as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” preparing to make Democratic attempts to remove him a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.
“No matter what you give to the Democrats, in the end, they will NEVER be satisfied,” the president wrote on Twitter. “In the House, they gave us NOTHING!”
He really wanted to sneer and rub this in the face of the Democrats on national television – he won and they lost – but his win will happen the day after his State of the Union address, so they robbed him of that, which he sees as unfair. The outcome of the final vote was never in doubt. It would take a two-thirds majority – 67 senators – to convict him and remove him from office. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted to sneer. He loves that. His base loves that. He was robbed!
And he cannot have liked what he was hearing from his own people:
Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said that “some of the president’s actions in this case – including asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine – were wrong and inappropriate.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who challenged Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination in 2016, suggested that he did not necessarily consider the president innocent, either.
“Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office,” he said. “I will not vote to remove the president because doing so would inflict extraordinary and potentially irreparable damage to our already divided nation.”
The evidence and logic and the law say get him out of there. Rubio concedes that. But around forty percent of the nation would be angry, and that’s too unpleasant to consider. So let it ride, and sound like a fool and a coward, but that’s okay:
Senate Republicans made a wager of their own that it was better to withstand the short-term criticisms rather than to allow the proceeding to stretch on and risking damaging revelations. In doing so, they are strapping their political fate to that of a polarizing president who enjoys unparalleled loyalty among conservative voters.
So be a fool. That’s a reasonable choice given Trump’s base. But you’ll still be a fool in the end:
Speaking from the well of the Senate before the vote, the Democratic House managers made a final, urgent appeal for additional witnesses during a two-hour presentation on Friday. They warned senators that a refusal to hear new evidence would ensure that Mr. Trump would never be held accountable and would undermine the nation’s democratic order and the public’s faith in the institutions of government.
Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House manager, seized on a New York Times report published in the hours before the vote to hammer home his point. The article revealed that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Bolton last May to assist in his pressure campaign on Ukraine.
“The facts will come – out in all of their horror, they will come out,” Mr. Schiff said. “The witnesses the president is concealing will tell their stories,” he added. “And we will be asked why we didn’t want to hear that information when we had the chance. What answer shall we give if we do not pursue the truth now?”
All but two Republican senators shrugged. They’ll deal with that when it comes up. They’ll think of something. And there was this:
As he weighed the evidence against President Trump, Senator Lamar Alexander reached an unavoidable conclusion: Mr. Trump had done what he was accused of, pressuring a foreign power to investigate his political rival. But however inappropriate his conduct, another conviction overrode the first: Americans would not tolerate the Senate stepping in to substitute its own judgment for that of the voters fewer than 10 months before the next election.
“The Senate reflects the country, and the country is as divided as it has been for a long time,” Mr. Alexander said Friday during an interview in his Capitol office. “For the Senate to tear up the ballots in this election and say President Trump couldn’t be on it, the country probably wouldn’t accept that. It would just pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.”
Why make people unhappy? And that was what sealed this:
With that logic, Mr. Alexander delivered a victory to Mr. Trump – and to Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, with whom Mr. Alexander has been friends for more than a half-century. In announcing he would vote to block witnesses at Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, he set Mr. Trump on a quick course to his inevitable acquittal.
Many Republicans appeared to be following Mr. Alexander’s lead on Friday, saying the Tennessee senator had echoed the feelings of their caucus – and the country.
Don’t pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there. Around forty percent of those people have guns, big guns, and lots of them. And that would be their people. This could get ugly. Let the people without guns be outraged and seething with angry. Yeah, well, what can they do about it? They got nothin’. That will assure no one gets hurt. That will assure domestic tranquility.
Paul Waldman is not buying that:
Democrats have a choice to make. They can slink off miserably and await Trump’s reelection, or they can keep fighting to create the accountability that impeachment was supposed to be about.
The president and his defenders will certainly demand the former. Once he’s acquitted, they’ll insist that anything resembling oversight of this presidency can only be the act of a bunch of sore losers. Not only can’t we talk about his Ukraine misdeeds anymore, but any further attempts to uncover or explore wrongdoing on the part of Trump or his administration have been rendered invalid.
But that’s bullshit:
Democrats should greet those arguments with the contemptuous dismissal they deserve. And then they should get to work.
The first thing they can do is invite John Bolton to testify in an open hearing before either the Intelligence Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House (and if he declines the invitation, subpoena him). The fact that Senate Republicans stopped him from testifying in the impeachment trial doesn’t mean he’s barred from opening his mouth forevermore. So let’s hear what he has to say.
Did Trump tell him explicitly, as Bolton’s book reportedly says, that he was holding up military aid to Ukraine until they announced an investigation of the Bidens? Why did Bolton call the scheme to pressure Ukraine a “drug deal”? What was the full extent of Rudy Giuliani’s influence over the government’s foreign policy apparatus? Just imagine what a huge media event it will be when Bolton comes to answer those questions.
Wait, when Bolton comes to answer those questions? He won’t be answering any questions if he’s in Guantanamo being waterboarded ten times a day, not for information but as a warning to former White House officials who might blab. Alan Dershowitz has said that Trump can do stuff like that. Republicans have said that settles that.
Waldman, however, has other alternative ideas:
Democrats should also make it a top priority to finally get hold of Trump’s tax returns. Granted, this isn’t entirely in their hands – there are multiple cases in the courts in which Trump is trying to keep them hidden with all the desperation of a cornered mongoose. But the idea that we could go into a second Trump election without knowing where he’s getting money from, to who he owes money, and what kind of possible tax fraud he might be engaged in is absolutely ludicrous.
So the tax return issue should be part of a broad initiative aimed at exposing and highlighting Trump’s personal corruption and self-dealing. For instance, why have there been no hearings on Trump’s aborted effort to award to himself a multimillion-dollar contract to host the Group of Seven summit? Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney claimed that the Secret Service concluded that Trump’s faltering Miami golf club was “far and away the best physical facility for this meeting” in the entire country, which is almost certainly a lie.
So let’s find out: Get whoever was running the planning under oath and start asking questions.
But wait, there’s more:
How about considering new legislation to punish employers who hire undocumented immigrants? Like, say, Donald Trump? I’m sure the undocumented workers who among other things were responsible for ironing Trump’s underwear would be willing to testify about the nature of their employment.
And of course, Democrats should be ready at a moment’s notice to vigorously investigate whatever efforts Trump makes to cheat in this year’s election.
And don’t say that this won’t work:
I can already hear some Democrats saying, “Oh no, but if we’re too mean to him the voters will punish us!” There’s never any shortage of that advice in the party. But let’s consider how Republicans do this.
When their first investigation of the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi failed to find that Hillary Clinton personally flew to Libya and killed four Americans with her bare hands, did Republicans decide that the matter was done?
No. They mounted another investigation, and another one, and another one, until during the eighth congressional investigation they discovered that Clinton had committed an atrocity far worse than murder: She had used private email for work. It was that discovery that eventually, through the enthusiastic efforts of the news media and the helpful 11th-hour intercession of James Comey, made Trump the president of the United States.
Did Democrats say it was absurd overkill? Sure they did. Did Clinton, in her 11 hours of testimony, make Republicans look like fools? Yes, she did. But they didn’t suffer any political harm for it. Nor should Democrats fear that being too tough on Trump will make them look bad.
So, do something, damn it:
No one seriously doubts anymore that Trump is the most corrupt human being to ever sit in the Oval Office. The only question is whether Democrats are going to decide that because they took a shot at impeachment and didn’t get him removed from office, there’s no longer anything they can do about it.
There’s plenty they can do. They just have to do it.
And the stakes are still high, as Jennifer Rubin notes here:
Look at it this way: The Senate was never going to reach a two-thirds supermajority to remove President Trump from office. By refusing to call witnesses, by advancing a frightful theory of unlimited presidential power, by endorsing the right of presidents to enlist foreign powers, by misstating evidence and making scurrilous attacks on everyone from House manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to former vice president Joe Biden, Senate Republicans have demonstrated the lengths to which they will go to hold on to raw power and to bolster a deeply unfit president who does not know right from wrong…
The insistence on not merely acquitting but acquitting without the semblance of a real trial and with a new unlimited theory of presidential power will, at the very least, be clarifying for voters and the judiciary.
That means that in this case the winners may be losers:
The public should understand fully that the Republican Party has become the authoritarian party. Instead of limited government, separation of powers and self-rule, Republicans embrace – when it suits their fancy – unlimited executive power, executive domination of the other branches and selling our democracy to the highest foreign bidder. They have mutilated the Constitution so they can claim its broken remains. They have been willing to sacrifice an ally to Russian domination, a signal to the Kremlin and others that we are feckless friends. Voters should be forewarned that neither the legislative branch nor executive branch can be entrusted to this crowd.
And there’s this:
Americans who actually adhere to conservative beliefs should give up the fantasy that the GOP can be rescued. In not only electing and defending Trump but also shredding long-held constitutional principles, it poses a threat to the rule of law, equal justice under the law and the American creed (“All men…”). Their energies are best spent in the short run trying to nominate and help elect a centrist Democrat and then creating a principled center-right party from the ground up.
So again, do something:
If nothing else, this has been a painful lesson that the Founding Fathers underestimated the power of the presidency and overestimated the good faith of its occupants, leaving us ill-equipped to fend off authoritarians and their docile enablers. The system we inherited is not suited to extreme tribalism and rampant dishonesty. It is not simply (or even primarily) a problem about money in politics; it is the deformity of our institutions and demolition of our democratic norms that must be the next president’s concern.
That is, if there is a next president. Things have fallen apart, or so says Richard Wolffe:
How will the nation’s Republican senators look anyone in the face and say they have any rights to keep in check a corrupt and criminal president? How can they pretend to be Trump’s victims when they marched themselves off a constitutional cliff?
And how on earth can they pretend to the world that their vision of America – where a president can happily use military aid to coerce a foreign government to smear his political rival in an election – is the model for democracy?
But all of this was a bit of a farce:
The searing testimony of John Bolton would have done nothing, zippo, nada, to change the final vote. The facts of Trump’s corruption were never in dispute. The notion that this doesn’t rise to impeachable crimes has always been a joke.
We could play the age-old parlor game of asking how our esteemed Republican senators would have responded to Barack Obama asking the French government to investigate Mitt Romney’s missionary exploits ahead of the 2012 election. But what’s the point?
Today’s Republican Party elected to remove their spinal cords three years ago, along with much of their frontal lobe and their self-respect. They wring their hands in private and lament their lampoon-worthy leader whose shoes they must lick on a daily basis.
But they should know they are following in a fine tradition of the world’s puppet legislators, like the People’s Council of Syria and the Russian Duma under the expert guidance of one Vladimir Putin.
And it really doesn’t matter:
Our reality TV star of a commander-in-chief will carry on regardless, seeking out fellow grifters, foreign strongmen and domestic weaklings. Will he feel liberated by the failure of the Senate trial to seek out more foreign interference in this year’s election? The answer may be similar to the one about bears dumping in forests.
Short of removal from office or federal indictment, there are no constraints on Trump’s conduct.
And thus the winners become losers. One must be a god to be able to tell successes from failures without making a mistake? No, it’s not that hard, not this time. Winners are just losers with more patience.