As the U.S. Senate pressed through its final days of the second impeachment trial of America’s 45th president, Donald Trump, it is important that we recognize one unfortunate distinction that didn’t exist in Trump’s first impeachment trial and acquittal.
This time, in the impeachment trial where Trump is charged with “incitement of insurrection,” Trump’s jury is rigged. In Trump’s favor.
A number of the Republican senators who are now Trump’s impeachment jurors performed for months as Trump’s de facto enablers and accomplices – even as he went all out to inflame his most hardcore voters and convince them that he and they are victims of voter fraud.
Many Republican senators repeated, or at least seemed to validate, Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen. As they parroted Trump’s lies (even when it meant willingly deep-sixing our democracy) their trusting Republican voters saw it as a signal that Trump must be right. And just as the driver of the getaway car becomes the enabler and accomplice of the bank robber, the Republican senators who seemed to validate Trump’s lies and conspiracy fantasies ended up providing enabling assistance when Trump committed his crime of inciting insurrection.
Republican officeholders who believed in Trump — or were fearful that he would find a primary challenger to oppose them — found it easier to go along with Trump’s lies, deceits and distortions as he proclaimed he won reelection “by a landslide.” And that the election was stolen from Trump’s voters.
But those senators and representatives knew that early last year Trump had implemented a scheme that would enable him to make that lie seem true. It happened when Democrats told their voters to protect themselves from the pandemic by voting early and avoiding long Election Day lines. Trump put out the word that Republicans should all vote on Election Day. And he began claiming that early voting can be fraudulent.
But mainly: Trump’s team realized that on election night, the day’s votes get counted first — and then early voting gets counted. So Trump began making the false claims that he had won the election — but was a victim of massive fraud because suddenly all the votes counted seemed to be for Joe Biden. Of course, that’s when the Democratic early votes began coming in.
But Trump claimed it was fraud and his fellow Republicans in Congress went along or failed to denounce Trump’s deceit. And the hardcore Republican voters massively believed it was fraud. And the Republicans in Congress just validated their supporters’ trust in their lying president.
Meanwhile, as Trump mounted his campaign of lies, deceits and mondo bizarre conspiracy theories, Republican senators seemed beset by a pandemic of political laryngitis. Especially whenever journalists with microphones approached. Do you remember all those days when Republicans walked stone-faced and silent past journalists, refusing to answer questions about Trump’s latest conspiracy claims and lies?
This week House Democrats, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., put on a compelling case that left no doubt that Trump incited that mob that he sent to the Capitol where they committed their horrific crimes of violence. Also he was not just unremorseful.
Nebraska’s Republican Sen. Ben Sasse said Trump’s staff told him their boss was delighted for hours by what he saw happening at the Capitol.
But leading Republican senators were at pains to show publicly they weren’t pained at all by the Democrats’ case. “This is a complete waste of time,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said. And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House managers offensive and absurd.”
Most Republicans who spoke on the record were using the constitution as a shield, crouching low so as not to have to stand up for a moral or patriotic principle. They were insisting Trump, a remorseless private citizen now, cannot be convicted of an impeachment crime — even incitement of insurrection against our democracy.
But there is one last hope that two-thirds of the Senate could actually vote to prohibit Trump from ever again being president. It is the decency that once made Republicans a Grand Old Party — and has been found to still exist in two high-profile, hardcore conservative places. On the House side, Rep. Liz Cheney just wrote a new chapter for JFK’s “Profiles in Courage,” when she dared to tell the truth about Trump’s crimes.
And in the Senate, no less than the Senate’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who knows how to demand unity, just put out the word that Republicans should independently vote their consciences.
It’s an old concept that could lead to a Grand New Party.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.