He was guilty. The vote was 57 to 43 guilty. But that wasn’t the point. Unless two-thirds of the Senate said he was guilty, he wasn’t guilty, or he wasn’t quite guilty enough. The House had impeached Donald Trump a second time. The Senate has acquitted him a second time. Each time he was not quite guilty enough – for impeachment. This wasn’t a criminal trial. This was something else – but this was the end of the Trump presidency. There’s no need to talk about him any longer, and certainly no need to listen to him. He holds no office now. He has no official powers of any kind. And he can’t tweet. Twitter won’t have him. He’s been banned for life. The other social media platforms may, one day, let him post again, but that day seems to be far off. So, if he has anything to say now, he has few ways to say whatever that is, to a hundred million Americans all at once. He’s been shut down. He golfs. He’s nobody now.
What do Republicans do now? Many of them say it’s not so. Donald Trump is still the most important person in the universe. But many of them don’t even think about him now. Why would they? It’s time to move on. That angers the first group. Their anger angers the second group. Democrats watch from the sidelines, smiling. Someone should sell popcorn. This’ll be fun.
But it’s not fun. The Washington Post’s Amy Wang covers this new conflict:
One day after the Senate acquitted former president Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, Republicans continued to diverge in what the future of their party should be, with a chasm widening between those who want nothing to do with the former president and those who openly embrace him. The division is playing out as Trump promises a return to politics and as both factions within the GOP vow that they will prevail in the 2022 midterm elections.
Meanwhile, the backlash began against the seven Republican senators who crossed the aisle Saturday to vote with Democrats to convict Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection.
This is war, of sorts, with traitors (or heroes to some) and apologists:
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) planted his flag firmly in Trump’s camp Sunday, with harsh words for his Republican colleagues – including his party leader.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted to acquit the former president – then followed his “not guilty” vote with a lengthy floor speech about how Trump had been, in his estimation, “practically and morally responsible” for provoking the mob that overran the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The violent siege left five people dead, including a police officer. Two other officers who helped fight the Capitol mob died by suicide in the days after, and their families want their deaths recognized as “line of duty” deaths.
McConnell may have “got a load off his chest” with his floor speech, Graham said, but he had also made himself a target for pro-Trump Republicans in 2022.
“Donald Trump is the most vibrant member of the Republican Party. The Trump movement is alive and well,” Graham declared to Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. “All I can say is that the most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump. We need Trump.”
Why? He lost the White House. His impulsive foolishness cost them the Senate. They couldn’t retake the House. Trump’s approval rating never once rose to even fifty percent. More than half the nation thinks he’s a dangerous fool. They need him? But that’s the argument now:
Graham’s full-throated defense of Trump laid bare the divisions the former president has caused within the GOP over the past four years. There are those Republicans who say they must distance themselves from Trump to survive, and those who believe doubling down on Trumpism is the only way forward. Up to this point, Graham has waffled – alternately trying to appeal to both sides – but on Sunday he made clear he would belong to the latter faction and seemed to enjoy his role as Trump champion.
He became a Trump Mini Me – “I’m into winning. And if you want to get something off your chest, fine. But I’m into winning.”
If so, why is he hanging around with Trump? But consider who he says will be the next senator from North Carolina:
“The biggest winner I think of this whole impeachment trial is Lara Trump,” Graham said. “If she runs, I will certainly be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party.”
So, Trump’s daughter-in-law will win that senate seat. His daughter Ivanka will then win Marco Rubio’s Florida senate seat. Rubio will graciously step aside as the dynasty snaps into place. Or maybe this will be a monarchy. Graham can be the king’s council, or the court jester. Perhaps he’ll be the state executioner:
Graham’s unapologetic embrace of Trump – in defiance of the GOP’s longtime leaders – comes as a string of high-profile Republicans who have dared to criticize the former president have faced punishments from their state and local parties. On Saturday, Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) became the latest Republican to be censured by his state party for his vote to convict Trump. Cassidy had previously voted against the constitutionality of the trial, but said he changed his mind after listening to House impeachment managers make their case. Over the course of the trial, he appeared to devour news articles in the off-hours and raised specific questions to fill in the gaps.
Ultimately, Cassidy cast a “guilty” vote, and released a simple, 10-second video to explain his decision. “Our Constitution and our country are more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Cassidy said in the video.
And he’s also irrelevant:
On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Cassidy waved off concerns about what Trump would mean to the GOP moving forward.
“I think his force wanes,” Cassidy said. “The Republican Party is more than just one person. The Republican Party is about ideas.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has been outspoken in his criticism of Trump, predicted Sunday that there would be “a real battle for the soul of the Republican Party over the next couple of years.”
That’s not what the king-in-exile says:
Trump himself has shown no intention of fading away, issuing a statement shortly after the Senate vote that slammed the entire impeachment trial as “a witch hunt” and lamented that no other president had been subjected to such indignities.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump stated.
But he couldn’t tweet that. No one was listening. And something has changed:
Last month, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of 10 Republicans in the House to vote to impeach Trump, started the Country First PAC to challenge the party’s embrace of the former president. (He, too, has been censured by his local GOP apparatus.)
Over the weekend, Evan McMullin, executive director of the nonprofit political organization Stand Up Republic, spoke of his recent call with more than 120 Republican officials about starting a new party or faction within the GOP.
“Well I think what’s clear is that something new is required,” McMullin said on MSNBC on Saturday. “Forty percent feel there is no hope for the GOP to reform and to rejoin the healthy political process in America.”
Polls do show that, and there’s this:
Democrats defended their decision not to call witnesses Saturday in part because they recognized the degree to which GOP senators still support Trump. Republicans largely voted in lockstep with Trump during his presidency. In his speech Saturday, McConnell justified his acquittal vote by saying he did not believe the trial was constitutional because Trump was no longer president when the chamber received the article of impeachment – without mentioning he had himself refused to reconvene the Senate any earlier than the day before Trump left office.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he was fairly certain there would have been enough votes to convict Trump had there been a secret ballot.
That’s a moot point now. Everything was always moot:
On Sunday, multiple House impeachment managers said it would not have mattered whether the Democrats had called additional witnesses. The resulting vote would not have changed.
“Once Mitch McConnell made it clear he intended to acquit… what the House managers needed wasn’t more witnesses or more evidence,” Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) said on ABC’s This Week. “What we all needed was more Republican courage.”
Is that the issue? The New York Times’ Frank Bruni certainly thinks so:
During the first of the three presidential impeachments in my lifetime, we contemplated the smudging of a blue dress. During the second, the smearing of a political rival.
During this one, which ended with Donald Trump’s predictable but infuriating acquittal? The shrieking of a police officer as a mob crushed and bloodied him. It was rawer and uglier. So is America.
And this is how we got there:
I keep thinking about the late 1990s, Bill Clinton, that whole melodrama and how Republicans used it in the service of a particular identity for their party. I keep thinking about what a lie that identity was then and what an absolute joke it is now.
Republicans sought to define themselves as the caretakers of tradition, the guardians of propriety, the proudly old-fashioned champions of honor, order, patriotism and such. Clinton’s background, especially the accusations of infidelity, helped them do that. They turned him into a symbol of America’s turpitude. They reasoned that the more thoroughly they demonized him (and Hillary), the more persuasively they sanctified themselves.
He was lies and they were truth. He was lust and they were modesty.
And that was bullshit:
Monica Lewinsky dropped into that crusade like a gift from the gods. What you saw on the faces of many Republicans as they discussed Clinton’s dalliance with her wasn’t indignation. It was glee, and it fueled the charade that men like Newt Gingrich – who was then the House speaker and was cheating on his second wife with the much younger woman who would become his third – were the bulwarks against moral chaos.
Well, they got that wrong:
That’s precisely what Donald Trump wrought. Not metaphoric chaos, but actual chaos, deadly chaos, on grueling, gutting display in the footage of Jan. 6 that House Democrats presented at his Senate trial. It showed rioters coming for lawmakers like lions for lambs. (“Hang Mike Pence!” “Naaaaaancy, where are you?!?”) It showed lawmakers fleeing for their lives. It showed stampeding, smashing, stomping, screeching.
It showed hell, or something close enough that when all but seven Republican senators shrugged it off so that they could vote to acquit Trump, they finally forfeited any claim to virtue or to “values,” a word that had long been their mantra. They irrevocably lost all rights to lecture voters on such things. They affirmed that they, like Gingrich, were gaseous with hot air all along.
They’re fine with hell, so long as they’re re-elected.
What can they say now? Nothing much:
This trial and that footage left them nothing to hide behind. What Trump incited – the insanity of it, the profanity of it, the body count – represents the antithesis of everything that the party purported to hold dear.
Trump’s lawyers excused it and gave Republican senators their rationale for acquittal by talking about free speech, but that cast the president of the United States – the most powerful person in the world, entrusted with the security of his country – as just any old crank spouting off. It minimized his station. It trivialized the stakes. It also overlooked that it’s not okay to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, though Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, reminded them of that, describing Jan. 6 as “a case where the town fire chief who’s paid to put out fires sends a mob not to yell ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater but to actually set the theater on fire.”
But that was the only way that this could end:
This was, in retrospect, the climax that his presidency was always building toward, the inevitable fruit of his meticulous indoctrination of his base, his methodical degradation of American institutions, his romancing of right-wing media and his recruitment of the most ambitious and unscrupulous Republican lawmakers. At his behest, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and several other Republican senators promoted the lethal falsehood that the election was fraudulent, yet that didn’t disqualify them from sitting as jurors to render a foregone verdict on a man whose delusions they had already endorsed. What a system. What a farce.
They were distracted, cavalier jurors at that. Rick Scott, who of course voted “not guilty,” was seen studying and then fiddling with a map or maps of Asia. Dare we dream that he’s plotting his own relocation there? Hawley, who also voted “not guilty,” at one point moved to the visitors’ gallery above the Senate floor and did some reading there, his feet propped up, his lanky body a pretzel of petulance. What happened to Republicans’ respect for authority? What happened to basic decency and decorum?
That’s gone now:
Clinton was a supposedly unendurable offense against that, but then along came Trump, and Republicans decided that decency and decorum were overrated. Truth, too. Heck, everything that they claimed to stand for in the Clinton years was now negotiable, expendable, vestigial. Nothing was beyond the pale.
But that footage was beyond the pale. Did you really look at it, Senators Hawley, Scott and Cruz (yet another “not guilty”)? Did you see the blood and the terror on that police officer’s face? Do you honestly contend that there’s no connection between Trump’s lies – refined over years, repeated incessantly and rendered in the most incendiary fashion possible – and the officer’s pain?
Do you sleep soundly at night?
The Republican Party was born on March 20, 1854, the green shoots of a political spring. Unlike America’s other parties that were often shotgun weddings of convenience, the Republicans burst forth around moral ideas that were so powerful – ending slavery and making America a world industrial power – that the tail of this supernova lasted for more than 166 years and inspired its eventual nickname, the Grand Old Party.
That GOP died – morally, if not officially – in the late afternoon gloaming of a grey and bitterly cold winter’s day, Feb. 13, 2021. After 43 Republican senators who’d been given a green light to “vote their conscience” on Donald Trump’s impeachment still managed to come up empty – thus enshrining the notion that an end-of-term president can foment a deadly insurrection to thwart a peaceful transition of power and not face any consequences – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell strolled to the well of the Senate. He was presumably holding the bloody knife with which he’d repeatedly stabbed American democracy for a dozen years hidden behind his back.
And then he did his thing:
It turns out that McConnell’s past moments of political shamelessness – the years of hurting America’s recovery just to electorally thwart our first Black president, the theft of a Supreme Court pick from Barack Obama so it could be made by a dangerous demagogue whom the Kentuckian then helped pack the judiciary – were just an audition for Saturday’s GOP eulogy.
“There’s no question – none – that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” said McConnell, referring to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol that had endangered McConnell’s colleagues, his staffers and himself. “No question about it.” But his faux moment of moral clarity was all a sham, as shown by leading the Feckless 43 in acquitting Trump as well as his pretzel logic to justify his vote, a lie-based misreading of the U.S. Constitution that he’d already shredded into 10,000 pieces as he turned the Party of Lincoln into an authoritarian cult with no moral standing and no ideology beyond realpolitik to protect white identity politics.
And that means that it’s time to move on:
McConnell’s effort to obfuscate was in fact one of the most revelatory moments in the long, muddled history of American politics. The unbearable nothingness of his failure – and that of most of his party – to hold Trump to account for a full-frontal assault on America’s core ideals was the final flatlining in the long slow death of a political party that is no longer grand, just old. On paper, the Republican Party may live on – but the GOP as an idea and a moral force is deader than a parrot in a Monty Python sketch, nailed to its perch in a gross caricature of what it once was.
And it’s time for the rest of us to act accordingly. There is no place for bipartisanship when half of that proposed arrangement is no longer a functioning political party within a working democracy.
And that would mean this:
Since Biden took office, the push to use the controversial 51-Senate-votes reconciliation process to move full steam ahead on coronavirus relief for everyday Americans, and Democrats’ bold move to strip GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments over her dangerous pro-QAnon statements, are signs that the Democrats know they must govern for the 57%.
Now, in the wake of the Republicans’ blocking of accountability for Trump. Democrats must see the light and go even deeper. The failure to get 60 votes, let alone 67, in the open-and-shut case of the ex-president’s insurrection incitement, should not only be the death knell for the GOP but also for the filibuster…
What’s more, a failure to enact laws backed by a majority of the public – most notably, the $15 minimum wage – will open the door to the ultimate nightmare enabled on Saturday by the Feckless 43, the return of Donald Trump.
Just do it:
The only way to save the country from the American carnage of 2021 is for the Democrats to use their narrow majority to push for what is right – politically, economically, morally – and invite any principled Republicans like Sen. Mitt Romney or Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler to join them.
Real aid for struggling, regular folks, and the bloody shirt of Jan. 6, could help Democrats defy the political wisdom and gain more seats in 2022.
And that would speed the inevitable – to declare the Republican Party legally dead, and move on with our lives.
That’s a thought. Forget that king in exile. But don’t be so glum. David Frum sees a victory here:
The 57–43 margin wasn’t enough to convict under the Constitution. It wasn’t enough to formally disqualify Trump from ever again seeking office in the United States. But practically? It will do as a solemn and eternal public repudiation of Trump’s betrayal of his oath of office.
You say that you are disappointed? That a mere rebuke was not enough? That justice was not done? It wasn’t. But now see the world from the other side, through the eyes of those who defend Trump or even want him to run again. Their hope was to dismiss this impeachment as partisan, as founded on fake evidence, as hypocritical and anti-constitutional – to present this verdict as an act of oppression by one half the country against the other. That hope was banished.
We won! We did? Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog thinks not:
No, that hope wasn’t banished, because Trump’s supporters don’t care how many Republicans voted to convict – they just wanted to win, and they got their wish. They would have taken any margin as a landslide victory, which is the phrase Trump used to describe the 2016 election, in which he lost the popular vote by 3 million, and the 2020 election, in which he lost it by 7 million, and lost the Electoral College as well.
Frum writes this:
The background fact of this second Trump impeachment trial was how broadly popular it was. In January, a Monmouth survey found that 56 percent of Americans wanted Trump convicted. Quinnipiac reported that 59 percent regard him as responsible for inciting violence against the U.S. government. According to ABC/The Washington Post, 66 percent believe that Trump acted irresponsibly during the post-election period. According to polls, fewer than a quarter believed that Trump did “nothing wrong” on January 6.
Those are not the numbers on which to base a Grover Cleveland-style comeback tour – especially not when the majority of Americans also believe that Donald Trump did a bad job handling the COVID-19 pandemic and that President Joe Biden is doing a good job.
Steve M doubts that too:
The polls always understate support for Trump, because many Trumpers are congenitally mistrustful and won’t talk to pollsters. And I’ll remind you that Barack Obama had a 69% job approval rating in March 2009, while the Republican Party had a 59% disapproval rating a month later. That didn’t prevent Republicans from shellacking Democrats in the 2010 midterms, and didn’t prevent a tight presidential race in 2012. Granted, Obama wasn’t running against George W. Bush, who was widely reviled when he left office, but Bush’s favorability ratings were even then in the process of returning to positive territory. Don’t assume it can’t happen again. Trump’s polling is probably at its low point, and it’s not that low.
So this isn’t over:
I don’t blame Democrats for the impeachment outcome. Even if they’d called witnesses, nothing would have changed – Republicans would have tried to deflect blame to Nancy Pelosi, the mayor of D.C., Antifa, George Soros, whomever. They would have denounced Democrats for prolonging the trial while COVID relief languished…
The problem is Republican officeholders and Republican voters. They wanted this outcome. The Framers said that conviction in an impeachment trial must be by a two-thirds vote; there just isn’t two-thirds support for the idea that Donald Trump is a reprehensible person guilty of high crimes. So America got the verdict it deserved.
If you were a member of the Senate and watched the case House managers presented in the impeachment trial without feeling the need to convict, then nothing would have moved you. The same is true for much of the American public.
So it comes down to this:
Our problem is that roughly forty percent of the country is cool with Trumpian depravity. This isn’t a problem we’re going to solve easily.
And they have their king in exile, plotting his return, a return that will never happen. But they dream on. That’s our problem now.