For all his cognitive deficits, blistering ignorance, and unsubtle grifting, Donald Trump excels in one area: spectacle. No Democrat on the political scene can rival him in the creation of monstrous shitshows, cringetastrophies, and dear-God-is-it-time-for-Dad-to-go-to-managed-care moments of pure Gantryesque spectacle.
All of the cultural divides, political tribalism, and ideologically segregated media silos that made Trumpism possible are now converging in a fast-approaching singular moment of political danger for this nation, when a handful of senators will be required to make the most fateful decision of their lives.
They will almost certainly fail that test, and the nation—the rigged rules that Mitch McConnell introduced Monday eliminated any remaining doubt about that. Yet Democrats, as they so often do, believe this trial against Trump will be waged and won on facts, reason, honor, and the power of institutions to hold the line against corruption, criminality, and chaos.
But Republicans are planning a show, not a trial. The sooner Democrats start realizing this, the better off they’ll be.
Trump’s legal team, including not one but two of Jeffrey Epstein’s defenders, wasn’t selected on the basis of academic prowess, knowledge, or experience, but notoriety and willingness to work for this unapologetic criminal. Its biggest names are representing Trump not in spite of but because of the fact that they are flashy media characters.
The Democrats will need to show not only expertise on the subject matter at hand, but some passion and fire in the course of this. They’ll need to bring more energy and direction to the floor of the Senate. Trump and McConnell aren’t hiding their cards: Rules are for suckers; dignity is for marks; and this is a bar fight, not a debating society.
Republican senators are following the Donald’s and the Turtle’s lead, treating the impeachment proceedings not as the forum for answers and accountability that Americans are after, but as a stunt. Martha McSally, who seems determined to go down in flames in purple Arizona, gave away the game when she tried to convert her entirely affected burst of snippy temper at CNN’s Manu Raju into a fundraising blitz. Ted Cruz, looking for all the world like the cumulative result of cascading replication errors from cloning Wolverine too many times, is putting out drama-queen performative fan club videos for Trump. Why not burn down the Republic in defense of Trump and make some sweet email-marketing bank off it?
Democrats should stop falling for the stupid bluff, and the calls to put Hunter Biden and Adam Schiff on the stand. The White House and McConnell really don’t want to open the door to witnesses, and this is a see-through intimidation tactic and attempt to shift the trial’s focus away from, you know, the president who’s been impeached for his conduct.
Republicans are seeking a circus, not solemnity, to provide base-motivating outrage fuel for the Trump campaign and Fox News. (But I repeat myself.)
As things kick off next week, expect a lot of hair-pulling, foot-stomping, outraged why-I-declare moments from the usual suspects who combine adoration of Trump with addiction to the cameras. Expect all the furrowed brows, worry, and woulda-coulda from the Squishy Six in the Senate. Expect McConnell to rule with an iron fist and race this thing in for a hard landing. Just don’t expect the facts of the case to matter in the trial itself.
Democrats, you cannot shame the Senate Republicans. There are no questions that will lead them to the truth, because the absolute, corrosive corruption of Trump demands that they humiliate themselves with paper-thin defenses of Trump’s lies and abuses of power. The Washington media model of asking questions with the presumption that they’re going to be answered in good faith has been pushed to the breaking point by the Trump era.
Sure, they’re scared of Trump out of the usual FOMT (Fear of Mean Tweets), but they’re absolutely terrified of Mitch McConnell, keeper of the National Republican Senatorial Committee purse, and a right bastard if crossed by members of his own caucus.
No amount of editorial pressure from hometown papers will move them one inch. Letters to their offices will be shredded. Emails will be ignored. Unless their constituents are in their offices, and in their faces in huge numbers, they intend to simply wait until Mitch blows the final bugle and puts the impeachment proceedings into the ground.
The only chance to bring around even the Susan Collinses of the GOP is to increase the pain, raise the ad volume to ear-splitting and bombard their districts with shock-and-awe-level media firepower. You can’t shame them, but you can scare them.
There’s just one thing that scares them, and McConnell: money.
It’s too bad Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer are burning mountains of it on bonfires of their own vanity because the one thing that McConnell and the GOP Senate caucus do understand is television, cable, and digital ad buys hammering them, hard, over protecting Donald Trump’s corrupt criminal enterprise.
Some outside groups are in the game (I’m a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, one of the groups active in this fight), but until the ads are so hot and heavy that GOP senators want to kick in the screen and enter Witness Protection, McConnell will hold them firmly in check for Trump’s benefit.
The purpose of hitting these Republicans with paid media, grassroots contact, and other pressure isn’t only to change their votes on the impeachment questions of witnesses, testimony, and other evidence.
It’s also because the safest bet in Washington is that when there’s one layer of a Trump scandal, there’s more. Facts about the Ukraine deal will come out, drip drip drip, for the rest of this election year and beyond. That’s been the entire history of this administration. Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis, Martha McSally, and the rest are making a terrible, stupid bet if they think that once they acquit Trump in the Senate, the story is over.
In Trumpworld, it never gets better. It never produces exoneration, only more evidence of guilt. The only easy day was yesterday. There will always be another story, another scandal, another member of the weird group of Trump clingers and hangers-on involved in grand and petit scams, lawbreaking, and scumbaggery.
It’s happening even as I write this, with the explosive Parnas information. None of the new revelations will appear on the floor of the Senate if Mitch McConnell chokes them out, but those revelations will become fodder for a hundred attack ads against Trump’s cronies.
They may let Trump skate, but they’ll take the hit for covering up his guilt and joining his ongoing criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice. He won’t give half a damn about any of them.
Why Democrats and outside interest groups aligned with them can’t internalize this simple strategy is beyond me. Every single one of Trump’s lackeys up for re-election in 2020 needs to come home under continuous and withering media assault across all channels.
The Trump Suicide Squad in the Senate is ready to cripple itself to keep him standing. What’s at stake in this impeachment isn’t simply the fate of Donald Trump. Their overtly political decision to wreck the impeachment process will permanently alter the balance of governmental power.
The GOP has for too long been too eager to put too much power in the hands of the president, but AG Bill Barr and Trump’s tiny-handed grab at executive power is so expansive, so dangerous, and so eminent that when this is over, Congress will be reduced to a talking-shop with no true law-making function and barely any budget authority. After all, the GOP has already laughed off the GAO report that explicitly outlines the illegal nature of the Trump administration’s withholding of aid to Ukraine. Democrats haven’t used their power to enforce oversight and accountability by letting the White House middle-finger them every day.
House Democrats aren’t helping here either. They’ve let Trump cover up the crimes of his hoods, thugs, and cronies by successfully cockblocking testimony, document production, and cooperation by stonewalling the House of Representatives, with absolutely zero legal consequences.
We are well past the point where the Constitution or the rule of law matter to Republicans. They know they are close to a victory that will exonerate a guilty man, and they give zero fucks in that regard.
But they will. History doesn’t just operate with a kind of karmic justice, but also with a kind of profound ironic sensibility. Defending Donald Trump’s corruption and criminality will lead the GOP to a place in history as footnotes, as patsies, as stooges laughably committed to a man who they damn well knew was guilty. No one remembers the defenders of Nixon, or Grant, or any other corrupt leader as anything but petty henches.
Trump may avoid the judgment he deserves, but the senators will not.
I’ve taught this lesson a hundred times, but it’s going to take more, apparently, for it to sink in. Nixon’s Republican defenders were blown out in 1974. Why? They defended what the public rightly saw as corruption. In 1994, a Democratic speaker of the House lost his seat and his majority when it was clear he was a party to a scandal with the House Bank and House Post Office. Corruption kills, and it kills its defenders as thoroughly as the ones engaged in it.
Watergate was small-ball compared to what’s happening in Washington right now. Bill Clinton’s impeachment was a footnote compared to the roaring bonfire of abuse of power, corruption, criminality, and chaos caused by this president.
The GOP will be judged harshly by history because they know better. Republican senators, despite the pressure from Trump and McConnell, know exactly who Trump is. They know what Trump is. They know he’s a con man, a criminal, a character of the weakest and loosest moral fiber. They know he’s a faithless, feckless, foolish man driven by ego, spite, and avarice.
Their campaigns will be miserably harder because they’re willing stooges, but that’s just the start.
The conceits that GOP senators hold in their minds are astonishing. First, if they believe that Trump voters will thank them in some way, they’re not paying attention. Trump voters hate everyone except Trump. No points for being a bootlick, especially if the senator ever—ever—said a cross word about Trump; just ask former golden boy Matt Gaetz.
Republicans may well win this stacked trial in the Senate, but they have done themselves in.
Being thrown out of office stings, but becoming a punchline in political history, a footnote, a joke at best, is the deepest cut. Being held up in American object lessons in cowardice, failure, and disgrace is what’s coming.
They swore an oath on the floor of the Senate on Thursday that they intended to break from the very beginning.
They knew the moment they stepped before the clerk and signed that they were already compromised, already done, already preparing your betrayal. As they race to exonerate a guilty president, besmirch the character of the Senate, and shame themselves as leaders, perhaps they can find some small consolation in knowing that the ratings of this reality show will be historic.