After many long years of coddling and actively supporting Donald Trump, after defending or ignoring his crimes and rank indecencies, Senate Republicans were finally made to take their medicine on Wednesday, and it was a bitter pill indeed. None can say if any minds were changed, as there was no proving vote. As the day-long and meticulously documented description of the January 6 Capitol attack ground on, however, there were Republican heads down on desks, gestures of conciliation, and a generalized grimacing pain none could escape until the day was gaveled to a close.
The evidence offered by House manager after House manager was devastating, mostly because it was made to be personal. The chamber they all sat in was the crime scene, and those assembled had been both witness and victim to the Trump-led sacking of the nation’s seat of democracy. Footage of Senators Mitt Romney and Chuck Schumer scrambling to escape the ravening mob made it bipartisan in the most elemental way: January 6 was scant inches from potentially becoming a bloodbath, and everyone in the building yesterday knew it in their bones once the presentations were finished.
It was relentless, excruciating and infuriating. Point by point, connections were made between Trump’s incitement and the mob’s response. This was done to the granular level: At one juncture, footage was shown of rioters reading Trump’s incendiary post-rally tweets through a bullhorn, further inciting the rioter’s fury.
Unlike the last impeachment, when the managers were committee chairs with deep seniority, these proceedings are being run by the Democratic Party’s young, hypertalented House varsity. Standing out was Del. Stacey Plaskett, the non-voting congress member from the Virgin Islands territory. No one in Congress has less power than a delegate from a territory, and yet there she was going John Henry on Trump and his mob. She and her colleagues were magnificent, and I could not help but wonder what could have happened 13 months ago if Democrats had staffed up their impeachment managers then the way they have now.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, to my mind, made the most cogent argument connecting Trump’s actions to the riot; to knock the point home, he took the old “yelling fire in a crowded theater” metaphor and gave it a whole new set of legs:
This case is much worse than someone who falsely shouts “Fire!” in a crowded theater. It’s more like 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, and who then when the fire alarms go off and the calls start flooding into the fire department asking for help, does nothing but sit back, encourage the mob to continue its rampage and watch the fire spread on TV with glee and delight.
It was a vital point to make. Perhaps more than anything else, the fact that for so long that day Trump did nothing to stop the rampage he initiated was the most damning aspect of yesterday’s testimony. This truth was pounded home with grinding efficiency; here was Trump lumbering through the White House, riding the adrenaline high of an instigator, followed by pathetic pilot fish — aides, cabinet members, family, friends — all begging him to put an end to the violence… and for hours, he refused.
Did any of yesterday make a difference? Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, one of Trump’s chief enablers during the post-election interregnum, sat up in the gallery with his feet on the rail and did paperwork throughout much of the proceedings. Sen. Mike Lee, who muddied the conclusion of yesterday’s proceedings with a petulant objection, went on Fox News to argue that Trump should be let off the hook for his actions on January 6. “Look, everyone makes mistakes, everyone is entitled to a mulligan once in a while,” said Lee. For the record, a “mulligan” is a golf term for a do-over, a free second shot after you put your first ball into the water or the woods. No, thank you.
It is a long way to 17 Republicans voting to convict, especially given how many of them are directly complicit in the acts that led to January 6, but yesterday did Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s caucus no favors. They are leaning on a badly flawed argument that the whole impeachment process is moot because Trump is out of office. It is thin gruel, and those Republicans are waiting for Trump’s defenders to give them some sort of cover for an acquittal vote. That cover was glaringly absent on Tuesday, and desperately needed after Wednesday. Raskin and the House managers buried them and will be swinging for the fences again today.
“We are watching an entire political party on trial, just one month after the failed putsch at the Capitol,” writes Walter Shapiro for The New Republic. “Beyond Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and their ilk, how can retiring Republicans with reasonable reputations like Ohio’s Rob Portman and North Carolina’s Richard Burr live with themselves as they ignore the evidence of Trump’s determined efforts to overturn a free election?”
The grimy geometry of politics combined with simple nose-counting arithmetic place a Trump conviction at the far end of possible outcomes. Yet even in the face of that grim and cowardly truth, a sense is building that the House managers are slowly but surely brooming the entire Republican Party into a very tight corner. I have been critical of the foreshortened time frame of these proceedings — Republicans know how to make an issue like, say, Benghazi into a battering ram for months if not years — but it cannot be denied that the presentation to date has been both mesmerizing and ruinous in equal measure.
Trump will probably be acquitted. The Republican Party looks guilty as hell. Day Three is underway. I wouldn’t trade places with those GOP senators for all the whiskey in Ireland.