February 14, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
No, the Democrats did not botch anything
Focus on 43 traitorous Republican senators.
Sunday is my day of rest, but there’s no rest for the weary in the wake of Donald Trump’s acquittal by the Senate on the charge of inciting insurrection against the United States. Seven Republicans sided with the prosecution, making the former president’s second impeachment trial the most bipartisan in US history. The vote was 57-43, but not enough to reach the two-thirds supermajority needed to convict him.
Trump got off on a “technicality” invented out of thin air by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and endorsed by most of the rest of his conference. That’s what Stacey Plaskett told CNN’s Jake Tapper this morning. She’s one of the Democratic impeachment managers with a bright future ahead of her. And Plaskett was right.
Well, mostly right. I wouldn’t call it a technicality. I’d call it a Big Lie. After the vote, McConnell said during a floor speech the Senate could not prosecute and convict a former president. If the article of impeachment were delivered before Joe Biden’s inauguration, well, that would’ve been different, he said. As it was, it was too late. So, he said, prosecuting and convicting Donald Trump would have been unconstitutional.
While it looks like Mitch McConnell was trying to have it both ways (defending Trump while seeming principled), what he was really saying is something the rest of us should amplify—that being a traitor to the republic is, to him, jim-dandy.
The Big Lie has two parts, actually. One, McConnell refused to accept delivery of the article of impeachment before Inauguration Day. This is well known, and he failed to mention that in a floor speech blaming the Democrats for failing to get the article to the Senate on time. The other part of the lie is that the question of constitutionality had been settled by a bipartisan vote in the United States Senate. Before Inauguration Day or after—timing of delivery was irrelevant. But McConnell make-believed it was.
“I know that people are feeling a lot of angst and believe that maybe if we had (a witness) the senators would have done what we wanted,” Plaskett told Tapper. “But, listen, we didn’t need more witnesses. We needed more senators with spines.”
Here’s what happened with witnesses.
On Friday, CNN reported late in the evening that Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, had asked Trump to call off rioters storming the United States Capitol on January 6. Trump said no, they aren’t my people. They’re antifa. McCarthy said, no, they’re your people. Then Trump said: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” We already knew some of the details, but they were expanded and confirmed by Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican representative, who took detailed notes of the phone call. The impeachment managers were ready to rest their case before CNN’s report. Afterward, they said they’d be calling witnesses to testify.
The Senate Republicans saw an opportunity. Some threatened to filibuster any vote to call witnesses. Others said they’d filibuster Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees and virtually anything else his administration wanted. Moreover, the Democrats started to worry about unpredictable news coverage of witnesses, including Beutler herself, and the inevitable threats to his life. Jamie Raskin and the other impeachment managers had already established what the former president was thinking in the middle of the insurgency, that he incited it while at the same time failing to stop it once it began. Calling Beutler to testify was a gamble that might not have produced the desired effect. At the last minute, Raskin reversed course, setting off a firestorm of criticism.
Ralph Nader, Brian Beutler and other prominent lefties are railing against Raskin and the Democrats for caving to Republican intimidation tactics. They are wrong. First, because they do not know what they cannot know, and they cannot know that witness testimony would have moved 43 Republican senators to convict. Walter Shapiro, the dean of American politics who’s right on virtually everything as far as I can tell was way out on a limb saying witnesses would have gotten more attention from voters and thus put more pressure on Republicans. There’s just no way we can know that’s true. Odds are, voters would have been as equally checked out as they were beforehand. Or worse, they would have been rubberneckers to the Senate Republicans’ 10-car pile-up.
Ralph Nader, Brian Beutler and other prominent lefties are wrong, second, because they understate the very real risks to calling witnesses, particularly that the Republican could have used the process to muddy and obscure what is and has been an open-and-shut against Trump. Third, because in railing against the Democrats for not following through with legislature procedures they are entitled to follow, they ignore that 43 Republicans are traitors to the republic. That’s what we should be talking about.
Moreover, that’s what Mitch McConnell himself was admitting. In his floor speech, he excoriated Trump. He blamed him for the insurrection. He was “practically and morally” responsible, McConnell said. The violence was predictable and foreseeable, he said. Trump could have stopped it but chose instead to look on with glee, he said. McConnell sided in every way, shape and form with the Democratic prosecution. (He even used some of the same language they used.) In effect, McConnell said the Democrats did their job. They lived up to their constitutional obligations. The only reason they failed was because Mitch McConnell invented a reason they would.
While it looks like McConnell was trying to have it both ways (defending Trump while seeming principled), what he was really saying is something the rest of us should amplify—that being a traitor to the republic is jim-dandy. Indeed, given how easily it is to debunk his Big Lie, McConnell might not care if the rest of us see him as one. As far as he’s concerned, the 43 Republican senators who stand behind a former president who literally committed treason democratically represent and serve the interests of the roughly two-fifths of Americans who would kill off the republic if given half a chance. Don’t blame Raskin and the Democrats for trying but failing to hold Trump accountable for his actions. Blame the traitors, all of them, who got in their way.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.