"If I Only Had The Nerve"

Once again, Senate Republicans show that political courage is in short supply in their caucus

On Tuesday afternoon, 45 Republican Senators voted to end the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump before it even began. They did so on the grounds that such a trial is unconstitutional because Mr. Trump is no longer in office - never mind the fact that there are clear precedents for holding an impeachment trial after an individual has left office.

Five members of the GOP, along with all the Democratic members, voted to shoot down the effort. These numbers suggest that is highly unlikely that 17 Republican members will join all 50 Democrats in convicting Trump when the trial begins next month.

On the surface it is surprising that Senate Republicans would be so blasé about ensuring there is no accountability for a man who sent a mob of rioters to their workplace and threatened their lives. But after four years of watching Republicans cowardly enable Trump’s anti-democratic behavior it is par for the course.

How does one explain the continued reluctance of Republicans to turn on Trump when he is a) no longer in office and b) can’t attack them on Twitter?

The first and most obvious explanation is they are afraid of sparking a political backlash. According to the New York Times, the ten members of the House GOP caucus who voted in favor of the articles of impeachment “are already facing a fleet of primary challengers, censures and other rebukes from their hometown Republican Party organizations.” Why would a Republican senator in a safe red state - like the 15 or so senators up for reelection in 2022 in races that are not expected to be competitive - want to put a target on their back by turning on Trump? It’s cowardly, craven, and cynical, but it’s also the wise, short-term political move.

Trump remains deeply popular among Republican voters, most of whom believe that the 2020 election was stolen from him. There is little upside for Republicans to do the right thing for the country or their party (except of course for breaking the stranglehold that Trump’s lies have over millions of Republican voters). By refusing to condemn Trump, Republicans are theoretically creating a significant long-term problem: they are increasing the possibility that Trump could run for president again in 2024. If Trump were convicted in the Senate it would only take a bare majority of votes for him to be barred from ever holding federal officer again. But even on that front, a cynical person might argue that having Trump on the ticket in 2024 could potentially boost GOP turnout and help Republicans down ballot. Since I am that cynical a person (or at least able to imagine how a cynical person might think) I would not be surprised if many Republicans see keeping Trump around as a potential net positive for the party. Such an argument doesn’t take into account the half dozen or so Senate Republicans with presidential aspirations, but here’s the rub: Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Tim Scott, or Tom Cotton may not win the Republican nomination if Trump runs in 2024 … but they definitely won’t get it if they vote to convict him in 2021. So best to vote no on impeachment now and hope he doesn’t run in three years.

There’s also a third consideration that is unspoken but almost certainly shapes GOP thinking. Convicting Trump would make Democrats and, in particular, liberals happy - and pretty much the worst thing you can do as a Republican is to make liberals happy. “Owning the libs” is as much a guiding force in GOP politics these days as is cutting taxes, being pro-life, and standing at attention when Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” is played. The humiliation for Trump and the party as a whole of his conviction, as much as it probably reflects the true preferences of Republican senators, would be such a stain on the party’s self-image and such a boon for Democrats that it is likely too much to bear. In a highly polarized political environment not giving the libs a lay-up is no small thing.

The end result of all this is that likely for the second time in just over a year Senate Republicans will say to the country that a president who abuses his power, spreads misinformation and incites violence does not need to be held responsible for his actions. The utter poverty in political leadership, as well as expectations for presidential leadership is stunning. So too is the obvious fear that Senate Republicans have of their own voters. That Senate Republicans cannot level with GOP voters, tell them unpleasant truths, and take a courageous and honest stance on behalf of the most basic of democratic values would be pathetic if it wasn’t so incredibly dangerous. Suffice it to say, democracies do not remain normal and healthy when they can’t hold accountable those individuals who wage war against it.

In Related News …

This morning a video surfaced of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia (before she was elected to Congress) harassing David Hogg, the gun control activist and teenage survivor of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left 17 people dead. In the video, which appears to have been taken by an ally of Greene, she calls Hogg a “coward” for refusing to debate her; wonders why he got “30 meetings” with US Senators to talk about gun control when she, as a gun owner, could not get any; and accuses him of being a pawn of George Soros and other liberal funders. It is beyond appalling.

This latest outrage comes on the heels of newly unearthed archives from Greene’s Facebook page that “show the congresswoman promoting an outlandish, QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton cutting off and donning the face of a child.” No, I’m not making this up. Earlier in the week, CNN reported that she had liked posts promoting the idea of executing prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. As a result House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office released a statement that noted, “these comments are deeply disturbing and Leader McCarthy plans to have a conversation with the Congresswoman about them."

Hopefully that conversation will begin with the words “Rep. Greene, when are you resigning from Congress?” though I wouldn’t recommend holding one’s breath. Call me old fashioned, but I tend to think that harassing a child who survived a mass shooting, expressing support for having the person who manages your workplace executed, and believing utterly insane conspiracy theories are grounds for removal from office. At the very least Greene should receive the same punishment as Rep. Steve King in 2019 when he made yet another deeply racist comment, namely being stripped of her committee assignments. This will be yet another test for congressional Republicans as to whether they will hold members of their own party accountable for their actions. Greene is an incredibly dangerous figure. She believes and promotes conspiracy theories, like QAnon, which has been deemed a domestic terrorism threat by the FBI, and is dragging the GOP further down the rabbit hole of political insanity. Nipping this in the bud now, by speaking up against it before it becomes the dominant belief system within the Republican Party is essential.

But like I said … don’t hold your breath.