Comedian Chris Rock once ribbed Michael Jackson for arriving at a court appearance “looking like Cap’n Crunch.”
“Who’s your lawyer?” the comedian exclaimed. “Franken Berry?” His joke referred to the Frankenstein-inspired mascot of the classic pink monster cereal that arrived on supermarket shelves in 1971.
Cap’n Crunch and Franken Berry. This is how I’m feeling after watching Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team defenestrate what remained of their reputations on the first day of his Senate trial. Yesterday’s twin-bill performance by Bruce Castor and David Schoen will linger in the annals of publicly distributed gibberish until the last star winks out of the sky.
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The presentations by Castor and Schoen would have been bad enough in a vacuum, but they were rendered all the more ludicrous in the bright light of the presentation put forth by the House impeachment managers. Opening with a harrowing 13-minute video that set Trump’s words on January 6 beside the violent actions of his followers, Representatives Jamie Raskin, David Cicilline and Joe Neguse walked the chamber through a cogent, often riveting civics lesson on why they were all there.
Each manager shined in turn, but it was Raskin’s closing remarks that lent the proceedings the emotional gravitas they deserved. After having buried his son only the day before, Raskin brought his daughter and son-in-law to the Capitol on January 6 so they could witness the Electoral College certification. All was most conventional, Raskin explained, until he heard the “haunting” sound of a furious mob attempting to batter down the chamber doors.
“Senators, this cannot be our future. This cannot be the future of America,” Raskin tearfully implored the room. “We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people under the Constitution of the United States.”
Castor, for his part, rose in response to Raskin and ran headlong into his own belt sander. By the time he was finished, he had committed the mortal sin of admitting Trump had lost the election: “The object of the Constitution has been achieved. He was removed by the voters.” He even suggested the proper course of action instead of impeachment was to see the former president arrested: “If people go and commit lawless acts as a result of their beliefs and they cross the line, they should be locked up.”
The word “meandering” does not do Castor’s presentation justice; he was the summer fly that can’t find its way out the open window, and so does lazy eights in the air until it dies of exhaustion.
Schoen’s version of events hewed closely to the grievance mainline that most Trump defenders cling to in the absence of cogent argument. His main points can be summed up (and rebutted) as such:
How dare the House managers attempt to overthrow the will of millions of voters? (It’s called constitutionally mandated oversight, that whole checks and balances thing.)
Democrats don’t care about unity, they just want to destroy the country. (Says the guy defending the guy who turned a mob loose on Congress to try and keep his gig.)
“This trial will tear this country apart, perhaps like we have only seen once before in our history,” Schoen bullyragged. (Suggesting the trial is the problem, and not the crime spree that required it.)
“Castor started out trying to schmooze the senators and then went woolgathering all over the lot,” writes Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce. “If there was a theme to Castor’s presentation, it was pitched at a frequency that I couldn’t hear. Schoen at least was able to get from A to B to C without breaking his leg chasing butterflies.”
All in all, Schoen’s bit was a grand return to the phenomenon of the Audience of One: The only person Schoen was performing for was not in the building but was down in Florida seething at the TV. Trump’s team, by all reports, really let the boss down yesterday.
“Mr. Trump, who often leaves the television on in the background even when he is holding meetings, was furious, people familiar with his reaction said,” reports The New York Times. “On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the angriest, Mr. Trump ‘was an eight,’ one person familiar with his reaction said.”
The odds of Trump’s conviction at the conclusion of this trial remain fantastically long, but cracks have begun to appear. Castor and Schoen were so bad that GOP Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana went sideways and voted with five other Republicans to proceed with the trial. “They did everything they could but to talk about the question at hand,” said Cassidy. “And when they talked about it, they kind of glided over it, almost as if they were embarrassed of their arguments.”
Can’t imagine why they’d feel that way.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is playing coy about what his final vote will be, though he did vote against continuing the trial yesterday. “Additionally,” reports Talking Points Memo, “McConnell has reportedly given his Republicans [sic] Senate colleagues the green light to vote with their conscience and convict Trump if they so choose.”
The House managers bagged one new Republican vote yesterday thanks to the strength of their presentation and the staggering weakness of Trump’s defense. They need 11 more to reach the threshold of conviction, and McConnell just let his dogs off the leash. Today’s presentation will reportedly include dramatic security video footage of the Capitol attack the public has never seen before. We may see more new names added to the “Yes” votes soon enough.
Still, it remains farfetched to hope that enough Republican Senators will cross the line to conviction. The shabby presentations by Castor and Schoen underscore this; they believe they have already won, so why bother putting effort into the defense? It was deliberately insulting, a taunt: Look how I can spew nonsense and still win was yesterday’s message from Trump’s team, and they’re right. For the moment, anyway, these low men still hold the high ground.