There was no little irony — and even some surprise — lodged in the fact that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered Trump’s strongest defense just after the close of the second impeachment trial by first conceding that the ex-president was unquestionably guilty-as-charged.
McConnell contended simply that the literal language of Article II’s Section 4 did not grant the Senate the authority to convict an ex-president. He read aloud that section of the U.S. Constitution, verbatim, in his speech:
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Like many Americans, I was disappointed with Trump’s acquittal. One way or another, Trump’s villainy and depravity on the 6th of January deserved the fullest repudiation the Senate could deliver to him. There’s no question he was guilty of violating his sacred oath of office on that horrific day.
Yet, and on reflection, I think I’m okay with McConnell’s argument.
First of all, he may actually be right in his reading of ART. II, Sec 4. I don’t know, I’m not a constitutional law professor. But he may be.
Secondly, conviction – and barring Trump from holding future federal office – would have created something like political martyrdom for Trump.
His base would once again find themselves disadvantaged by mainstream American society — in that they couldn’t vote for him again.
Trump himself could claim that fear among Democrats of his future political muscle was the true motivation behind the second impeachment.
This sort of martyrdom would leave open the now unresolvable question of just exactly how much vote-winning strength the ex-president might still retain in 2022 or 2024.
Finally, and I think most importantly, martyrdom for Trump in the eyes and hearts of an authoritarian and even quasi-religious following like his might have proved to be a powerful and long-lasting toxin.
So, okay, McConnell’s solution avoids that prospect.
And maybe that’s not so bad.
McConnell’s forceful and unreserved condemnation of Trump’s January 6th conduct also effectively splits the Republican party around the issue of Trumpism.
McConnell didn’t need to condemn Trump in explaining his legalistically grounded vote. But in doing so, he differentiated himself from the Republicans who voted for acquittal simply because they didn’t wish to offend their still-pro-Trump constituencies.
We saw the importance of this force very soon after the final Senate vote, when Louisiana’s G.O.P. censured Senator Bill Cassidy, one of the seven Republicans who voted to convict (“…because,” said Cassidy, “he is guilty”).
For my part, I cannot understand how any thoughtful American could continue to support Trump after the January 6th tragedy. The trial showed that Trump tweeted words heaping further scorn on Mike Pence only minutes after receiving a phone report that Pence was in peril. That revelation must have chilled the souls of even the staunchest Trump Republican.
Whatever the explanation of any continuing Republican support for a post-Jan-6th Trump, McConnell’s speech has now drawn a line in the sand for Republicans. He’s still that caucus’s leader in the Senate and thus still wields no little influence. Clearly, for McConnell Trump is now a has-been, a stain, and embarrassment. Moreover, and according to McConnell’s “lock him up” advice to the D.O.J. – also in his speech – Trump may well also be a criminal in McConnell’s eyes.
For my part, I think Trump is washed-up, done-for, finished – as he should be. The January 6th tragedy cast a very bright light on the man’s depravity.
The surprising thing is that I’m also beginning to actually like Mitch McConnell a little. Now there’s an outcome from recent events I’d never have expected!
by Ron Roizen