They Just Don't Care
House Democrats made a compelling case for Trump's impeachment, while Trump's lawyers embarrassed themselves ... and Senate Republicans could have cared less
One of my firm beliefs about being an opinion columnist is that it is essential to acknowledge when I make a mistake. It’s why at the end of every year I review everything I’ve written over the previous 12 months and report on what I got wrong. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the column I wrote last month trying to decipher which way then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was leaning on Trump’s impeachment trial.
While, I am generally loathe to make predictions, reading between the lines of McConnell’s statement yesterday seems to suggest which direction he is leaning: toward convicting Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors and ensuring that he never holds public office again. We can be sure that if McConnell does come down on the side of conviction more than enough of his Senate Republican colleagues will join him.
Yesterday, in the first day of Trump’s second impeachment trial, McConnell voted with all but six of his Republican colleagues that the proceedings were unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president.
So much for my predictive ability.
McConnell’s vote, along with those of his 43 GOP colleagues, only makes sense if they’d already made up his mind before entering the Senate chamber on Tuesday. This is undoubtedly the case, because the House impeachment managers made a thorough, engaging and compelling presentation and Trump’s lawyers were beyond horrendous.
The lead House impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin, cried talking about bringing his daughter to the Capitol on January 6 and her telling him that she didn’t want to return. He choked up when he spoke about the lives lost and the Capitol police officers who were wounded. Trump’s lawyer David Schoen became emotional … reading a Longfellow poem that I'm still unclear about its relevance to the proceedings.
While much of the negative attention on Wednesday was paid to Schoen’s co-counsel, Bruce Castor (and for good reason), Schoen’s arguments were genuinely bad. I lost track of the number of times that he contradicted himself and Castor. He spent a significant amount of time decrying the House impeachment process for not allowing Trump to have due process and for not resembling a traditional criminal proceeding. Never mind the fact that the presence of a lawyer arguing on behalf of Trump would suggest his due process rights were being protected, but right after making this tendentious argument, Schoen told the Senate that, in fact, impeachment trials are not like criminal trials. As the kids might say, “pick a lane.”
Later he talked about the importance of adhering to common law less than an hour after Castor had told the Senate, in forceful terms, that it should ignore common law. But perhaps the most dishonest argument was Schoen’s contradictory assertions that the House of Representatives had rushed through the impeachment proceedings, but that since Trump was no longer president the trial was unconstitutional. So if the House had let the process play out longer … it still wouldn’t have mattered because the clock ran out. Never mind the fact that the House impeached Trump while he was still president. This is the old heads I win, tails you lose argument.
The Democratic House managers did an excellent job of pointing out the basic fallacies in Trump’s defense. They argued that Trump was, in effect, asking for a “January exception” on committing high crimes and misdemeanors, namely the idea that a president can be impeached at any point in his term, except in the last month. By the standard set by the Trump lawyers a president can commit an impeachable offense at the end of her of his four years in office and not have to worry about being held accountable because they are preparing to leave office. It’s basically an invitation for president to engage in abuses of power or even criminality with no fear of being held responsible. For example, she or he could try to steal an election, instigate an insurrection, and walk away unscathed because they’re no longer president (any similarity to current events is, I can assure you, not coincidental). It’s an absurd, unsustainable argument that doesn’t pass the common sense test. And of course, it was lapped up by Senate Republicans eager for an escape hatch from this trial that will allow them to avoid holding Trump in any way responsible for literally threatening their lives.
But the true lowlight of the trial’s first day was the presentation by Castor. To say it was awful, meandering, incoherent, confused, unfocused, and rambling would be giving it far more credit than it deserved. Norm Eisen, who was House counsel for the first impeachment trial wrote on Twitter, “That was perhaps the worst argument that I have ever heard from a lawyer.” Eisen could have ended that sentence at argument.
I would try to spend some time summarizing the key points made by Castor but that would mean reviewing the transcript and frankly, life is simply too short. Take my word for it: he wasn’t good.
But the sad, infuriating, I want to throw my laptop out a window, part of it, is that none of it matters. The House Democrats could do a perfect job and Trump’s lawyers could do what they did yesterday and Senate Republicans will almost certainly still vote to acquit. Only one Senator voted differently than they had on an earlier procedural vote to end the trial before it began - Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. I was so shocked to see it that I assumed he had voted incorrectly.
A month ago I believed there might be a glimmer of hope that Republicans would come to their senses - if only for the narrowest of political reasons - and finally cast Trump out of the party that he has spent four years degrading and debasing. Clearly, I was mistaken. Republicans have put their collective fingers to the political wind and decided that they need Trump and no matter what he does or says - and even if he puts their own lives in danger - they will continue to enable him.
Indeed, this morning when I woke up and checked Twitter I came across this announcement from Josh Mandel, a former Republican state treasurer in Ohio, who is now running for Senate in 2022.
“I’m going to Washington to fight for President Trump’s America First Agenda.”
Usually a politician says they are going to fight for the people of their state, but in the modern GOP there is one person who is more equal (and important) than all others. Trump is gone and some day soon may be facing criminal prosecution but aspiring Republican politicians like Mandel are still willing to prostrate themselves before him and his rabid followers. For five years of Trumpism, nothing mattered. And for Republicans that is still the case.