The ongoing civil war within the GOP had a deeply clarifying moment yesterday. If Tuesday’s events are the writing on the Republican wall, Donald Trump need not fear conviction in the Senate or loss of influence within the party. Even now — after losing the House, Senate and White House and being deeply complicit in a violent attack on the Capitol itself — the disgraced disaster zone of a former president still appears to be running through the raindrops without getting wet. And, of course, with help.
Rand Paul on Tuesday used a vote to dismiss the impeachment charges against Trump as a sieve, sorting the Trump loyalists from the heretics in broad daylight. For those in Trump’s corner, it was a moment of strength: Only five of 50 Republican Senators voted to continue with the trial, and 17 would be needed to ultimately convict. Paul was in full strut mode after the vote: “Forty-five votes means the impeachment trial is dead on arrival,” he crowed to reporters.
Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Pat Toomey, Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse can officially count themselves off the Trump family Christmas card list; if they were expecting some sort of courageous stampede by fellow Republicans to back them up, they still don’t understand their own party. Now, those five can contemplate what anti-Trump GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger already knows about their future in politics, because it is his fate as well. “The only hope you have,” Kinzinger said yesterday, “is to accept the fact that you’re already dead.”
Calling this second impeachment trial a doomed enterprise is premature at present. That’s what I’m supposed to say here, and so I said it: Things can change. A flood of evidence regarding the sacking of the Capitol continues to wash out of the social media pages of participants in the mob attack, who seem to care little for the concept of discretion.
That lack of care for their legal safety is striking. For those who stormed the Capitol, this was their own personal Fifth of November, their own Gunpowder Treason. They believe they are heroes, because the internet said they were, and that is apparently enough for them.
Because of their wild urge to spray their crimes all over the internet, investigations appear to be creeping closer to making direct connections between participants in the violent mob, Republican members of Congress and Trump himself. If enough of those corks pop, more Republicans in the Senate could be persuaded to convict.
But yeah, probably “no” on a conviction. Rand Paul inspired a “Freeze Frame!” moment on Tuesday, and caught most of his fellow Republicans like ants in the amber.
The prior impeachment was probably the last chance this party had to salvage itself from the maw of Trumpism, and its members spit the bit. On Tuesday, they made it clear that they will almost certainly do so again, even in the face of evidence so vivid and profound as to make the Ukraine charges 13 months ago seem like a jaywalking citation. Trump used a mob to try and smash the legislature in order to retain power, but that is not enough to persuade most Republican senators to break from him.
“Local and state Republican parties are censuring Republicans for disloyalty in states across the country,” reports Politico. “The lawmakers who broke with him are weathering a storm of criticism from Trump-adoring constituents at home, with punitive primary challenges already taking shape. In Washington, party leaders who once suggested Trump bore some responsibility for the Jan. 6 violence are backtracking.”
The Republican Party will soon belong entirely to people like Republican Rep. and QAnon devotee Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spent the two years before taking office putting up social media posts indicating her support for the execution of Democrats. That, by the way, was the shared and declared goal of a number of Capitol raiders. There is talk within GOP House circles of expelling Greene, but such and action would make her an instant martyr to Trump’s base. Even in her absence, her twisted ideology will remain deeply embedded within the minds of the party faithful.
Greene learned how to pull this kind of thing at Trump’s knee: Do something outrageous, deny it, blame others, and then claim that it wouldn’t have been wrong even if she did do it. Sound familiar? Get used to it; we’re well into the 2.0 version of this phenomenon, because she’s not an outlier. More than half of Republican voters want Trump to run again in 2024.
“His incitement to sedition occurred on television,” Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce says of Trump. “There is video of the ensuing seditious acts in which the rioters announce that they were storming the Capitol at his invitation. All the ex-president’s defense has going for it is the essential cowardice of the Republican minority in the Senate, and alas, that’s probably enough.”
The GOP civil war may be over for all intents and purposes, but the impeachment trial must continue to its conclusion. There is talk of a tepid censure of Trump to replace conviction — of course, it’s bipartisan, because Democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity — and because so many of these people are base cowards, that is how this all might end.
That would be the final disgrace in a long and disgraceful season. Let these Republicans vote to acquit, not on a procedural motion but where the rubber meets the road, and let their names be written in the book of shame along with that whole sorry administration.
Trump will probably be acquitted, but the chance of conviction is worth seeing this through to its conclusion. If he is acquitted, he will own the GOP and they will own him.