Mitch McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Washington, holds Donald Trump’s fate in his hands. He could either let Trump off for inciting a deadly attack on the Capitol or sway 16 of his colleagues to punish him for it. When that choice came up at Impeachment One, McConnell quickly slammed the door on it. On Impeachment Two, he’s kept it open so far.
By the time Trump showed some remorse for telling his rabid crowd to take back their stolen country with a weak, “I unequivocally condemn the violence” after the violence had already done its work, no one but his most deranged followers could hear him. He’d already repeated the lie that got it all started and called the murderous horde “very special” people. He’d enjoyed the little war, and seeing his supporters show the “strength” he’d kept demanding of them.
The trouble started four years ago for Cocaine Mitch, when he entered into a loveless political marriage of convenience, lured by tax cuts, judges and deregulation. Instead of wedding-gift china, his dowry was new white voters drawn to the GOP by little more than a celebrity candidate’s hatred of the same people they hated.
But now the marriage appears to have run its course. McConnell shut down the first impeachment trial of his partner by refusing to call witnesses, but this time he says he has an open mind and intends “to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented.” The sphinx from whom nothing leaks unless he personally turns on the spigot let it be known that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses.
The riots left scars on McConnell, an institutionalist, on his Senate, its iconic building, his party and his wife Elaine Chao, who resigned as labor secretary the day after the riot. Add that to McConnell’s loss of the leadership position he held dear in the wake of Trump’s mad, obsessive quest to force Georgia officials to fraudulently change the presidential election result. The outgoing president sacrificed two Senate seats and the GOP’s control of the upper chamber to inflame his most gullible followers into believing the preposterous lie that he’d won by a landslide.
Now is McConnell’s last best chance to end things with Trump and take custody of the best remaining parts of the wounded GOP. The soon to be minority leader can give the soon to be ex-president custody of the My Pillow guy to fund Trump’s kids doomed political runs while McConnell woos back the Fortune 500 companies that cut Trump’s party loose after the riots. He can retake or cut loose the RNC, so MAGA with a whiff of QAnon that it just re-elected the former Ronna Romney McDaniel, who dropped her middle name to please Trump. McConnell has $22 million in his bank account and the superior Senate fundraising apparatus. When Trump flies off, his life will have shrunk to Mar a Lago, Trump Tower, a chain of ailing hotels, and a pile of debt. Oh, and a dozen prosecutors on his tail.
Trump doesn’t have many assets left worth fighting for. Banned from Twitter, warned by aides if he thought he got nasty questions from the press before, don’t try them now, and after a listless trip to his patched and penetrable border wall, it’s honey-I-shrunk-the-presidency time.
The president leaves nothing behind but ruin, 400,000 unmourned dead, and an economy, except for Wall Street, in tatters: no Trump Doctrine, no treaties to replace the ones he tore up , but many illicit pardons. I’m beginning to believe he never had a health-care plan. He raised sons with ambitions larger than their talents. Republicans still fear retaliation if they only wound the king. Sen. Rand Paul predicts a third of the party flees. But what if it’s the third that cheered on the rampage? Can a man whose popularity has dropped to 29%, according to Pew, really make good on his promise to primary anyone who crosses him?
McConnell remained compliant before the siege of the Capitol, humoring his dangerous partner and taking care not to contradict the lie that he’d been robbed. While McConnell eventually warned his caucus not to partner with the rabble in the House to challenge the vote, he left time for the rabble in the Senate, led by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, to organize a dozen to do just that.
Then came the deluge. McConnell found out that with Trump there are no limits and there is no bottom, as Trumpists literally invaded the castle of the longest serving Majority Leader, one he never considered giving it up to seek the White House. McConnell never dreamed there could be chants of “Hang Mike Pence” coming from inside of his Capitol. A few more syllables and some choir practice and it could have been “Hang Mitch McConnell.”
McConnell didn’t fight Trump’s takeover of Washington in 2016; now is his last chance. So far, he’s not taken up the argument of Trump apologists—that Democrats were haters first, unity is what matters, and there could be more bloodshed. Nor has he endorsed Sen. Tom Cotton’s dubious claim, without historical precedent, that there can be no trial of a president once he’s out of office. To the contrary, McConnell announced that the “Senate process will now begin at our first regular meeting following receipt of the article.”
At that meeting, it will be Majority Leader Chuck Schumer deciding on witnesses, binders full of them, along with reams of videos of a rampage no one but Trump could have watched unfold in real time, and not have lifted a finger to stop. Instead, he phoned lawmakers—interrupting their calls to families to say they were okay but also, just in case, to say goodbye—to ask them to keep Joe Biden from becoming president when the session resumed.
No matter what McConnell does, Trump ends his days isolated and in shame, refusing to pay Rudy Giuliani’s bills, even angry at Jared Kushner, the son he never had, for not going out to the White House driveway to defend him. Exempt from his fury is Ivanka, who called the rabid crowd lapping up Trump’s encouragement “patriots.” After her father officially announced he wouldn’t be attending the inauguration, she did too, although she hadn’t been invited. That’s good practice for handling all the invitations she won’t be getting when she returns to civilian life, reportedly in Florida, to primary Sen. Marco Rubio. Guess who McConnell will support in that one.
McConnell will never be a great historic figure. He could have stopped Trump, he enabled him instead, and now we will celebrate a peaceful transfer of power hardened against a second invasion. But he could write a new beginning to his obit already on file. Down goes selling temporary space in his soul to a monster, his whimpering silence no matter what.
Up goes leading his caucus to banish Trump, at last, for all time, depriving him of the salary, the staff, the office space, and most of all, the right to run again. What’s left to fear? The worst has already happened. He can assure that Trump’s legacy is one of infamy. Let the trial begin.