February 14, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

No, the Democrats did not botch anything

Focus on 43 traitorous Republican senators.

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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.

Here’s the tip jar!

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

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. jibal jibal on July 30, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    You are so right about this … and it’s unfortunate that so many have it wrong. I was fuming listening to Ari Melber and his guests yesterday excoriating the house managers … who are heroes! Lay the blame where it belongs–the Republicans!!! Those traitors were threatening to derail Biden’s agenda, and the House managers had no choice but to pull back … they still were able to read Herrera Beutler’s statement into the record–which didn’t change any Republican votes; witnesses wouldn’t have either. We got GWB instead of Al Gore because of Ralph Nader and others with a holier-than-thou attitude and no strategic sense, and we got Trump instead of Clinton because of the same. I’m as far left as any of them, but being a principled progressive doesn’t mean that one must be stupid about it–the first principle should be minimizing real suffering, which in this case means not delaying pandemic relief.

    A couple of other things:

    “McConnell refused to accept delivery of the article of impeachment before Inauguration Day”
    This isn’t technically true. What he refused was to join Schumer to call the Senate back into session. Had he done so, the article of impeachment could have been delivered and the trial started immediately.

    “the question of constitutionality had been settled by a bipartisan vote in the United States Senate.”

    This is true, but it goes way beyond that. The arguments given by Republicans preceding that vote, given by Trump’s lawyers, and given again by Republicans preceding their votes to acquit, were all blatant lies. First, Trump was impeached while in office. Second, there is nothing in the Constitution, in precedent, or in the historical record that these phony “originalists” claim to care about that supports their claims–totally to the contrary, as explained in depth at https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/02/11/donald-trump-impeachment-ex-president-founders-468769

  2. Dave S on July 30, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    You are on point here. I feel Trump wasn’t acquitted as much as excused.

  3. Linda Mehta on July 30, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    After the vote, I had to check out for a while myself. It was just too much to continue to take in. I couldn’t agree more with your explication of what happened and your conclusion that we not be distracted from identifying and calling out the real guilty parties. It’s frightening how many people are willing to jump on a bandwagon with imaginary wheels. I’m now putting my faith in the New York attorney general as far as Trump is concerned. As for the Republic, I just have to hope we find a way to better educate people and help them learn how to identify valid positions from lunacy.

  4. Fairedargent on July 30, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    Do you have any thoughts about the issue of Graham, Cruz and Lee, jurors who swore an oath of impartiality, conferring regularly with defense counsel? It seemed to me to be an open invitation to move to disqualify them as jurors. At a minimum, it should have been debated so that there will be clear future guidelines for Senate behavior in the future. The status quo is that the oath Senators take to sit as impartial jurors in an impeachment case is meaningless. And yes, I know that there is no impartiality in such a political and politicized chamber, but not calling out that behavior legitimizes it for the future. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome of this impeachment, but it might have improved conduct in the future.

  5. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    So many politicians are self righteous and greedy. Those 43 republican senators certainly are. When they have to make a choice between truth and lies, they choose to lie if being truthful might threaten their reelection. It’s not just cowardice, though it certainly is that. It is ignorance, immorality, and as you say it is treasonous and I’ll add stupidity. It will be interesting to see if Mitch files a lawsuit of some kind against 45.

    • Lady4Real on July 30, 2021 at 11:30 pm

      Nancy said it right when she said these 43 senators are afraid to lose their jobs, as if anybody is promised a lifetime job no matter how lousy they are at that job. I agree. They are afraid to lose jobs that they are particularly lousy at, but the people who are their voters are too lazy to take care that their representatives are indeed competent to do the jobs they sent them to Washington to do. They just look at the ballot and select the R name they are most used to seeing.

  6. Cade on July 30, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    I was upset at first about the teasing of witnesses… but then I thought about how the first impeachment went. No, there were no witnesses at the trial itself, but there was plenty of excellent, compelling testimonies at the House Intelligence and Judiciary hearings. Guess what, though? It didn’t matter… not only to the eventual outcome, but also to the general poll numbers. Folks love to make the point that extended witnesses and hearings would change public opinion like what happened with Watergate, but that world just doesn’t exist anymore. I wish it were otherwise, but it ain’t so.
    I think witnesses would have animated both political bases and produced no movement at all in terms of votes or public opinion, especially after the GOP ramped up the ratf***ing machine.
    Passing a massive Covid relief bill and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act though… that might move some things.

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