It’s probably apocryphal, but Winston Churchill supposedly once said, “Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.” In recent years, I’ve had a similar, but opposite, insight about Republicans: They always fold like a cheap suit, after getting your hopes up.
My hopes were raised on Tuesday when it was reported that Mitch McConnell was in favor of impeachment and that Liz Cheney would vote for it. But I suspect they are about to be dashed. The McConnell-Cheney news was likely meant to show momentum. But the dam never broke. The impeachment resolution is expected to get, what, 10 or 15 House Republicans?
When push comes to shove, very few Republicans are willing to do the right thing. Even newly-elected Rep. Nancy Mace, who has been talking tough about Trump and her party’s lawlessness, is suddenly saying “there is violence on both sides of the aisle” and that “what we’re doing today, rushing this impeachment in an hour or two-hour-long debate on the floor of this chamber and bypassing Judiciary, poses great questions about the constitutionality of this process.”
Let’s start with her false equivalence. Yes, we should condemn violence whether it comes from the left or the right, but there is something qualitatively different about it when a) the president orders it, and b) the violence takes place inside the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop or slow the peaceful transfer of power. But even putting that aside, the most recent attack—the one that happened last Wednesday, in the same building Mace was standing in when she said those words—deserves our focus.
Regarding the process argument that says this impeachment is being “rushed,” well, there’s always an argument that provides cover and serves as an “out” for Republicans to avoid punishing Trump. One year ago, during the first impeachment, the most compelling argument was probably that an election was imminent and that the American public should get to adjudicate.
One year later, it’s pretty predictable that the opposite argument will be made: “There’s not enough time, and/or it doesn’t matter, since Trump is leaving in a few days.” The arguments change, but it hardly matters. They are all retrofitted to achieve the goal of making sure that Trump is never held accountable for anything.
Now, make no mistake, Trump will be impeached today. That’s only because Democrats control the House. In the wake of an insurrection fomented by Donald Trump, that led to the death of a police officer no less, you might expect Republicans to be willing to impeach and remove him from office. And, indeed, they are more than willing to employ all sorts of arguments to make sure they never actually have to do anything about it.
To avoid holding Trump accountable, they have employed various talking points that amount to Please cool the temperature so that our people don't take to the streets and kill you. This is the same circular logic that preceded the riot, when Republicans like Ted Cruz argued that the Electoral College should not be certified because so many Americans didn’t believe Joe Biden had won (they didn’t believe he had won because people like Cruz told them so).
The beauty of arguing that the process is simply too rushed is that it sounds reasonable. But what good does it do anyone if Mace chastises Trump verbally when her bottom line is the same as Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan’s (“rushing this resolution to the floor will do nothing to unify or heal the country”)?
Of course, the process argument’s cousin is the “I’m just concerned about unity” argument. “These actions, again, will only continue to divide the nation,” continued Jordan. Kevin McCarthy also worried that impeachment would “only divide our country more.” To be clear, they support Donald Trump, the most vulgar, uncivil, and divisive politician in recent memory, yet are suddenly wringing their hands about “healing” and “unity.” Audacious is really not a strong enough word to describe it.
The main point, though, is that even an armed insurrection at their office wasn’t enough to get more than a few House Republicans fired up to do anything to punish Trump, thereby sending a message to the next authoritarian demagogue. If Republicans controlled the House, he wouldn’t have been impeached once, much less twice. Maybe the Senate will be different—maybe—but don’t get your hopes up.
I can’t imagine Mitch McConnell will want to make his members walk the plank and make themselves vulnerable to a primary defeat if it looks like they are going to fall short of the votes needed for removal. When it comes to holding Trump accountable, they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He literally could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and nothing would change. I mean, you wouldn’t want to rush something like that. And besides, isn’t it time to move on and start to heal?