Takeaways from Trump’s Impeachment and Acquittal


On Saturday, Donald Trump’s impeachment trial ended with the former president being acquitted of inciting an insurrection against the United States. Though a strong majority of U.S. senators voted for his guilt (57-43), the vote-count didn’t meet the two-thirds majority required for an impeachment conviction.

Here are some of my takeaways from both the impeachment and the trial:

Finding Trump innocent on procedural grounds was a cop-out

Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who voted to convict Trump, released a statement afterwards that included these remarks:

“But here’s the sad reality: If we were talking about a Democratic president, most Republicans and most Democrats would simply swap sides. Tribalism is a hell of a drug…”

He’s right, of course. If Trump were a Democrat, and everything else had been the same, none of the 50 Republicans in the U.S. Senate would have found any constitutional problem whatsoever with convicting an impeached president whose trial couldn’t logistically begin until after he had left office. And they would be on the right side of that argument.

While I think there are some individuals with relevant expertise, who genuinely believe that there is a constitutional conflict with holding an impeachment trial once the defendant is a private citizen, the facts of the matter are that:

  • the vast majority of constitutional scholars and U.S. historians disagree.
  • there was already precedent for trying an impeached former federal officeholder.
  • Section 3 of Article 1 of the Constitution spells things out pretty clearly: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments” (not just the impeachments whose timing was convenient). And contrary to how some have confused the issue (in some cases on purpose), this was never about impeaching a private citizen. Trump was impeached before he left office.

In other words, the procedural position invoked by a large majority of Republican senators is very much a fringe, unqualified view — one that runs counter to a strong constitutional consensus, historical precedent, and a clear reading of the text of the U.S. Constitution.

Furthermore, if the contention of 43 Republicans was that Trump was innocent purely on procedural grounds, what’s their next move, now that he’s been acquitted?

After all, most (if not all) of these individuals conceded, at some point after the January 6th attack, that Trump bore at least a good amount of responsibility for what happened. Are they now going to censure him the way Republican state parties have been censuring the handful of congressional Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Trump? Is that not the least they could do in response to the provocation of a domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol — one that killed people?

Yes, those are rhetorical questions. The GOP isn’t going to do anything else. At this point, Trump may as well change his name to Rollo Tomassi.

The trial was worth having, even though the outcome was preordained

What was the point of holding the trial if there was no chance, under the current political landscape, of a conviction? It’s not an unreasonable question, but it’s not without solid answers.

First, to spell it out once more (since it doesn’t always seem to sink in with people), a U.S. president provoked a murderous act of domestic terrorism on the U.S. Capitol through months of aggressively lying to millions of Americans, as part of an attack on our democracy and electoral institutions, for the purpose of overturning the results of a free and fair election that he unequivocally lost.

Again, if that’s not an impeachable offense, nothing is.

Also again, even many of the Republicans who ultimately voted against impeachment/conviction (including top party leaders like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy) have stipulated that Trump, in fact, committed these very acts. Their argument is not that Trump didn’t do these things. Instead, they qualified their vote with supposed procedural concerns.

On the other side of the GOP coin, there were enough Republicans who didn’t hide behind these disingenuous arguments to make this president’s impeachment, and trial vote, the most bipartisan in U.S history.

Next, because a whopping two-thirds vote is required in the Senate to convict an impeached official, conviction is always going to be highly unlikely… especially when that official is a U.S. president who enjoys the partisan backing of a major political party (as opposed to, let’s say, a federal judge).

Does that mean a president should never, under any circumstances, face an impeachment trial? Should evidence not be heard? Should there be no fact-finding process? Should there be no audit whatsoever of impeachable conduct?

The point of a trial is to present a case, and then let the “jurors” decide on guilt or innocence. Sure, since we’re talking about an impeachment trial and not a criminal trial, the “jurors” likely aren’t going to be objective… but that’s not a valid reason to forego the process itself. There’s a reason the framers included this mechanism in the Constitution: they saw a legitimate need for holding public servants accountable for particularly abusive conduct, including the option to bar them from serving in public office in the future.

Could they have predicted that Senate jurors wouldn’t take their responsibility seriously? Maybe. But what does that matter? The framers themselves did take it seriously.

In summary, the Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments, the offense in this case was entirely impeachable, and it was the most bipartisan impeachment of a president in U.S. history.

So, of course there should have been a trial.

The Republicans who supported impeachment demonstrated patriotism and courage

The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach, and the 7 Senate Republicans who voted to convict, enjoyed absolutely no political upside from their votes. There was only a downside — a steep one — and all of them knew that going in.

The backlash, driven by a Republican base that largely still reveres Donald Trump as nothing short of a religious figure, was swift and severe. As mentioned earlier, several of these elected representatives have faced official censures from their state parties, and are already being targeted with primary challenges.

The right-wing media has piled on too, bastardizing these individuals as RINOs, liberals, and even traitors. And it’s not just being done by the regular wackos on the commentary shows and hyper-partisan websites. Everyone subscribed to Fox News’s digital news feed received the story of Trump’s acquittal this way:

No, I’m not joking.

These representatives have seen their approval ratings plummet, and their offices’ switchboards and virtual town-halls light up with over-the-top vitriol and threats. Most of them probably won’t end up serving another term because of their principled decision.

This is their penance for supporting constitutional accountability for the incitement of an insurrection that killed multiple people, and very well could have killed our then-vice president and members of congress.

It’s exactly the reason why so few of their Republican colleagues joined them. According to multiple reports, including accounts from House members, somewhere between 60 and 80 Republicans in the House believed Trump should have been impeached, but all but 10 were too scared for their families and/or political futures to put their name behind the effort. The same was assuredly true of a number of Republican senators.

Much to their credit, those who stood up for what was right are still standing by their votes, and prepared to answer for them electorally.

“If we are willing to ask our young men and women to wear the uniform and sacrifice their lives for the good of the country,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger said in a statement, “how can Members of Congress—the elected officials entrusted by the American people to serve them honorably—be unwilling to sacrifice their careers in order to save the country?”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski told a reporter, “If I can’t say what I believe that our president should stand for, then why should I ask Alaskans to stand with me?”

And of course, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutle felt so strongly in her convictions that she was ready to testify under oath to what Kevin McCarthy had told her about the president effectively rationalizing the insurrection… as it was playing out.

These people deserve our respect and admiration, not scorn, for putting the country and the Constitution before their party and political future.

The Democratic leadership was more interested in impeachment optics than impeachment conviction

There were some subtle indications early on that the Democrats may have been organizing Trump’s second impeachment in a way that wasn’t particularly inviting to Republicans who may have been inclined to sign on to the effort.

Some, like Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, complained that while he truly believed Trump’s conduct was impeachable, the articles of impeachment written by the Democrats (without soliciting help from any Republicans) were too narrow in scope, because they were focused almost exclusively on incitement and insurrection.

Ahead of his vote, Rep. Kinzinger’s staff reached out to House Democrats to request seven minutes of time for the congressman to speak out in support of impeachment (a move that could have rallied more Republicans to his side). He figured he’d at least be granted five minutes. Instead, they would only agree to one, which Kinzinger decided wasn’t worth it.

After Trump was impeached, and the Democrats realized that ten Republicans had sided with them on the issue, there was a bipartisan opportunity to ask at least one of the ten to serve as a House manager during the Senate trial. But they didn’t.

At each step, it appeared more and more as if the Democrats didn’t even want Republican support, and instead were trying their best to brand the entire GOP as pro-insurrection, or at best indifferent to what had happened on January 6th, as part of a campaign strategy.

That seemed to change, at least for a couple of hours, on what was supposed to be the last day of the trial (Saturday), when a surprise Senate vote to allow witnesses was passed. This initiative came after Republican Rep. Beutle released a statement drawing attention to her aforementioned conversation with Kevin McCarthy.

At that point, Democrats could have called on McCarthy to testify under oath about the phone call. They could have called on Mike Pence to testify about Trump not contacting him at any point during the attack or in the days following. They could have called on people at the White House that day who supposedly witnessed Trump celebrating the rioting as he watched it on television, and asked them exactly what Trump was doing as events unfolded. This would all seem like very useful information if the goal were conviction.

But apparently, Senate Democrats quickly decided that calling on and questioning witnesses would take too much time, and they were about ready to leave for their scheduled vacation.

“People want to get home for Valentine‘s Day,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons reportedly told House impeachment managers.

This tweet from Politico’s Burgess Everett seemed to concur:

Thus, no witnesses were called, the Dems held the vote, they got their political narrative… and that was that.

The moral of this story…

I think the strongest conclusion that can be drawn from this impeachment experience is that while the framers of the Constitution rightly saw a genuine need for the mechanism of impeachment to hold public officials accountable for extraordinarily bad and unbecoming conduct (like that which led to what we saw on January 6th), that mechanism is no match for the intoxicating effects of partisanship and political careerism.

Also, if you’re a good person who’s thinking of running for high office, and you suspect there might be a situation one day in which you would have to make a politically unpopular decision for the good of the country and the integrity of the Constitution, you probably shouldn’t bother running in the first place. You’ll be thrown under the bus by your peers and constituents in no time flat, and it just won’t be worth it.

God bless America.

 


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Acquittal Is Not the Same as Vindication

The verdict was in before the impeachment trial began.

Saturday afternoon, the Senate voted 57 to 43 to acquit Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection against the United States. Seven Republicans joined every Democrat in voting guilty. But they fell 10 votes short of the required two-thirds majority for conviction.

Since the outcome was pretty much a forgone conclusion, why hold what amounted to a partisan trial in the first place, a trial that has only divided a country already dangerously polarized?

One reason is simply that Democrats hate Donald Trump. He’s what brings them together. When he was president, Democrats won the House, the Senate and ultimately they won the White House.

Donald Trump has been a gift to the Democratic Party – and now Democrats are hoping that the impeachment trial, regardless of its outcome, will continue to help their prospects.

Democrats know that while he unites their party, he divides his own. So by impeaching him and putting him on trial, Democrats were trying to keep their favorite villain in the spotlight long enough to help them in 2022 — and beyond

Republican senators who voted to acquit the president will be tarred by Democrats as  cowards, as Trump apologists. Democrats will say they excused his disgraceful behavior on the day some of his supporters stormed the Capitol, and that he’s the embodiment of a party that refuses to condemn not only the riot at the Capitol, but the man largely responsible for that riot.

That won’t help GOP candidates with swing voters in the suburbs who abandoned the party because they couldn’t take any more of Mr. Trump — and who they’ll need to win in 2022 and 2024.

And for those few GOP senators who voted to convict: They can expect primary challenges. It’s hard for some of us to believe, but Donald Trump, despite the harm his done to the Republican Party and the United States, still has strong support among millions of Republican voters.

There are many reasons Donald Trump is the worst thing to ever happen to the Republican Party, and this is only one of them: He found a base of gullible but loyal supporters who will remain loyal to him in spite of everything – and punish any Republican candidate who they believe wasn’t loyal enough.

Democrats should send flowers to Mr. Trump for all he’s done and will continue to do for their party.

Long before Election Day Donald Trump told anyone who would listen that the only way he could lose is if the election were rigged. When he lost, he told them he won – in a landslide. He told them that Democrats stole the election from him.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that his gullible acolytes believed him.

At the risk of coming off as gullible myself, I’ll give the former president this much: It’s hard to believe that he actually thought his supporters would riot and storm the Capitol, that they would smash windows, ransack offices and assault the police.

But whether he envisioned what happened that day or not, he’s still responsible for it. Over and over he told his supporters that the other side was subverting democracy; that America, as we know it, was about to die. And more than a few people bought his concocted story and thought it reflected reality.

Reasonable people may disagree on whether Donald Trump, a former president and now private citizen, should have been put on trial. And reasonable people may also differ on whether such a trial was good for a divided nation, given that Democrats had to know he would be acquitted.

But this much is not in dispute: Donald Trump behaved despicably on January 6. His lies about the election (and many other matters) disgraced the office he held. For months he played with fire.

If the House had impeached then-President Trump for dereliction of duty — for doing nothing in the hours after the riot began, for not calling in the National Guard sooner, for not sending a message to the mob to stop the riot  — then there might have been enough votes in the Senate to convict the former president. But that wasn’t the charge.

It would be a mistake if Donald Trump or his allies believe that acquittal is the same as vindication. They’re two very different things. The Senate made its decision and acquitted him. But history will decide if he’s vindicated. And I suspect, history will not be kind to Donald Trump.




Toil and Trouble

Hopefully, the witch’s spell that has been cast on Washington, D.C. will now be lifted as President Trump avoids an impeachment conviction again.  Shakespeare would have loved all this in the context of his play MacBeth and its “Song of the Witches.”

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

But there is no charm in America as the country continues to destroy its credibility and sensibility of fairness.  Few media and politicians care about objective truth anymore.  Now, more than ever before, it’s all about power and money.

Regarding the aftermath of the election, here is a truthful assessment: President Trump lost all perspective and acted irresponsibly in challenging the outcome.  Instead of listening to people feeding his ego with unverifiable theories, he should have called for a federal forensic-based investigation of suspect voting precincts.  When an incumbent president receives more than 74 million votes and loses, that is certainly a reasonable request.

But a thorough probe never materialized. Instead, both parties fed their supporters emotional propaganda as the courts walked away from intruding on the tabulated results, no matter how unlikely they seemed.

As his frustration grew, Donald Trump encouraged Americans to reject the tabulations and millions did.  The President believed that some magic might occur and proof of fraud could surface.  It never happened.

Then, in a last ditch attempt to prevent Joe Biden from assuming office, Mr. Trump participated in the January 6 D.C. protest. That resulted in a national disaster as political violence shocked the country.  But was Donald Trump directly responsible?

Michael van der Veen, a lawyer who defended Trump in the Senate trial, presented a strong argument: “At no point in their presentation did you hear House managers play a single example of Mr. Trump urging anyone to engage in violence of any kind.

“He engaged in no language of incitement whatsoever…”

Now, that doesn’t mean Donald Trump did not want a massive protest on his behalf, he did.  But Trump is a smart man who had to understand that violence at the Capitol could not possibly do him any good.

After the impeachment acquittal, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said Mr. Trump acted in a “reckless” manner, which is a defensible opinion.  But the charge was “inciting violence against the government of the United States.”

Very simply, evidence to convict on that is not there.

If being reckless is the standard, Vice President Harris could surely be impeached for urging Americans to bail out violent rioters last summer.  Or am I wrong?

History should record two things.  First, that President Trump hurt his country by embracing destructive after-election tactics.

Secondly, that the Democratic Party, actively aided by a corrupt corporate media, persecuted Donald Trump in an unfair and unprecedented manner throughout his entire tenure in office and beyond.

And that’s the truth.  No witch’s spell is needed to tell it.




Bernie’s Q&A: Impeachment Trial, Liz Cheney, Real Sports, and more! (2/12) — Premium Interactive ($4 members)

Welcome to this week’s Premium Q&A session for Premium Interactive members. I appreciate you all signing up and joining me. Thank you.

Editor’s note: If you enjoy these sessions (along with the weekly columns and audio commentaries), please use the Facebook and Twitter buttons to share this page with your friends and family. Thank you! 

Now, let’s get to your questions (and my answers):


Hello, Mr. G. I read your announcement about leaving Real Sports with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I’m happy for you after all the great contributions you’ve made to the show over the years. On the other hand, I’m sad to say the show will now be unwatchable without your wisdom and level headed expertise. Just one question. How soon before you will spill the beans on what it was like to be the Juan Williams of Real Sports? — Diane D

Stay tuned, Diane. And many thanks for the kind words. They mean a lot to me.

Bernie, since you left Real Sports will you consider doing articles and off the cuff segments on here that cover sports? — Joe M.

Could be, Joe. I think there’s been too much politics in the world of sports and sports journalism and I have to be careful not to add to that — except maybe to point it out and throw in my two cents about why I don’t like it.

Bernie, I want to make a few assumptions (please correct me if I am wrong): Your recent off the cuffs and articles that speak to cancel culture and limits on free expression have been terrific. I assume that within the world of sports journalists, you are somewhat of an outlier and in a minority since it appears that you do not subscribe to the prevailing views when it comes to critical race theory (CRT) and the notion that you can be a white supremacist for merely not bowing down to the notion of “anti-racism” regardless of whether your words and actions are not and never have been “racist.” I also assume that many of your fellow sports journalists, particularly those who have not worked with you or really know you might place you in the offensive categories set forth above, given the way the game is now played.

How do you deal with this today in the twilight of your illustrious career (no ageist offense meant) and how would you handle this situation today if you were a young pup or had just started to build your reputation as an elite sports journalist (which you are)? — Michael F.

I don’t like that sports and politics have become so entwined, though I think there are times when athletes rightly use their celebrity to call for change. Ali, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, even Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics come to mind. Unless the subject is brought up in my presence, I stay clear of the subject of race — in the world of sports or anyplace else. Honest conversations are not possible. Both sides have their minds made up. As for name-calling: The word racist has lost its clout. Once it was a powerful putdown. No longer. It’s been used too many times to shut down conversation. Finally, I thank you for the compliment, but I don’t see myself as a sports journalist, let alone an elite sports journalist. The work I did on Real Sports went far beyond mere sports. At least I hope it did.

I am slightly confused. I would like to ask if we would be in the midst of mass riots in your opinion, if Trump was re-elected? — Michelle B.

Good chance. Leftists in places like Portland and Seattle are rioting anyway. If Trump had won they’d have one more reason to throw bricks through windows.

Sir Bernie, did you know that the Jews have a space laser, Dominion voting machines were rigged to favor the Democrats, Trump colluded with Putin to rig the 2016 election, Sandy Hook was a fake news story so that leftists could confiscate our guns, Obama has a fake birth certificate, Bush and Cheney arranged 9/11 to give them an excuse to invade Iraq and steal Middle Eastern oil,  and AIDS was invented in a U.S. laboratory to wipe out African Americans and gay people as part of Ronald Reagan’s evil white supremacist and Christian right wing agenda.

Speaking of Reagan, apparently he made arrangements with the Ayatollah Khomeini to keep the hostages until AFTER the election of 1980 to insure a victory over our greatest ex-President, Jimmy Carter, as part of the October Surprise. And of course, Israel and the United States have underground bases on Mars and are working with space aliens to better understand our universe. (So THAT’S how the Jews got a hold of that space laser to start the wildfires in California!)

I think it’s obvious that no political party or ideology has a market on bizarre and often dumb ass conspiracy theories,  However what I can’t figure out is how reasonably intelligent people (including many of our politicians) get suckered into believing this nonsense. Why do you think people believe in all this gobblydegook? Do you think many politicians intentionally push these conspiracies as part of an agenda or do you think the politicians actually believe this nonsense? — “Weekly World News” Regards From The Emperor

First, I do NOT think they’re “reasonably intelligent people.” Some are, I guess, but many are “reasonably STUPID people.” Second, some people believe this nonsense because it brightens their otherwise dull lives. It gives them something to get excited about. And some — few I hope — don’t believe this garbage but won’t condemn it for fear of losing the MORON VOTE.

Bernie, Since you announced leaving Real Sports, presumably to avoid people asking you about Real Sports, everyone’s probably going to ask you about Real Sports… including me. Haha.

Being that you were with the show for over 20 years, I’m curious if Bryant or the show’s producers proposed giving you some kind of on-air send-off, maybe with a montage of some of your more memorable work? Or do you think you are just going to subtly disappear from the show without mention? — Ben G.

Don’t know. Don’t care.

I wonder what you think about House Republicans keeping Liz Cheney in leadership? Seems like a hopeful sign to me. — John R.

Seems like a hopeful sign to me too, John. It was the right decision. Only the hard core Trump loyalists hate her. I’d vote for Liz for president if she ever ran.

Wow, 22 great years at HBO Sports. Is this the end of the book or are you off to a new chapter in journalism? — Tim H.

It’s not the end, that’s for sure. I’m writing columns ain’t I? As for the next chapter, got any ideas, Tim?

I was inclined to believe that Trump’s counter-productive tweets during the January 6 attack weren’t actually being read by any of the rioters, since they were busy rioting at the time. But that video shown at the impeachment trial specifically showed MAGA people there reading them in real-time, including out loud on megaphones so lots of others could hear Trump calling Mike Pence a coward for not helping him. Have you been watching any of the trial, and have you learned some things about that day that you didn’t know previously? — Alex D.

I watched a little. And I came away detesting Donald Trump more than before I watched.

Yahoo News correspondent Alexander Nazaryan, who covered the Trump White House, wrote this in a piece for the Atlantic this week: “Covering the administration was thrilling for many journalists, in the way that I imagine storming Omaha Beach must have been for a 20-year-old fresh from the plains of Kansas.”

Thrilling? I can’t figure out what’s more irritating: this person’s sense of self-worth or their complete disregard for historical context. Your thoughts? — Jason R.

My thoughts mirror yours, Jason. Anyone who thinks that storming Omaha Beach was “thrilling” is an idiot.

Bernie, I feel kind of bad for Trump, since he keeps ending up with such terrible lawyers. Have you thought about suggesting your personal lawyer to him, since he’s successfully gotten you out of all kinds of legal trouble over the years, including the below fashion crime? — John D.

Thanks for the stupid question, John D. My lawyers are quite busy at the moment so were unavailable to help Donald Trump. They’re busy preparing a lawsuit against you … for slander. By the way, that’s not a picture of me. It’s Tom Cruise in his new movie: Why the World Loves Bernie Goldberg. He doesn’t even look like me, right?

 


Thanks, everyone! You can send me questions for next week using the form below! You can also read previous Q&A sessions by clicking here.

 

 




A Party Beyond Trump?

Note from John: For those who emailed me (and anyone else who might have been curious), I took a couple weeks off from writing about politics to finish up the final draft of my next book (which I can report is now in the hands of my publisher). I’ll have information on it in the coming months. Now, onto today’s column…

—–

Bob Dole once famously remarked that “the most dangerous place in Washington to be is between Chuck Schumer and a microphone.” It was a well-earned rib, showcasing the New York senator’s propensity to cut in front of colleagues at press-conference podiums — his way of inserting himself and his image at the top of various political stories.

Humor aside, there had been a place in Washington that really was the “most dangerous” to be standing in for the last four years… at least if you were a Republican. That place was between Donald Trump and whatever it was he wanted on any given day.

The most literal example came just last month when a mob of angry Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol. After breaking through steel barriers, doors and windows, and assaulting police officers (murdering one and hospitalizing dozens), they roamed the halls of Congress threatening to hang then Vice President Mike Pence for failing to unilaterally overturn the results of the 2020 U.S. election.

Of course, Pence had no such power, but the reality of the situation didn’t matter. Trump had convinced his most dedicated supporters that the fate of the “rigged” election rested on his V.P.’s shoulders, and that by choosing not to “save” American democracy, Pence — a man who’d been unquestionably loyal to Trump for four years — had committed a cowardly act of betrayal.

The devastating result of that fiction was some of those supporters believing it was their patriotic duty to wage a domestic terrorist attack on one of our government’s most important institutions.

But as strange as it may seem to do so, especially with Trump’s impeachment trial currently underway, let’s set aside the acts of violence for a moment. Let’s also set aside the numerous death threats directed at Republican lawmakers, government officials, and even conservative media figures who’ve had the gall to get on Trump’s bad side (often just for telling the truth). Let’s instead look at the political dangers associated with displeasing Trump.

It’s no secret that a number of elected Republican leaders, many of whom were once believed to be the future of the party, had their political careers cut short because of real or perceived conflicts with our 45th president. The religious devotion from Trump’s base ultimately sent people like Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Paul Ryan, Justin Amash, Mark Sanford, and Mia Love packing. It also transformed once outspoken Trump skeptics into embarrassing Trump sycophants, ready and willing to abandon just about any past principle or policy position in exchange for a pat on the head from their party’s leader (and thus a nod from his base). I’m talking about people like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and those in the House who voted to stop the certification of the 2020 election.

What was a bit of an unknown, however, was whether the end of the Trump presidency would mark a new era in the GOP — an era in which the party’s leaders didn’t necessarily have to be beholden to the worst instincts of a morally and ethically bankrupt individual, in order to have a future in the party.

On paper, it certainly seemed feasible.

After all, the Republicans lost the House, Senate, and presidency under Trump (the first time that had happened since Herbert Hoover’s administration). They lost key voting blocks, along with the states of Georgia and Arizona. They watched the leader of their party refuse to concede defeat (another historical first), and then spend two months trying to overthrow the results of the election through a steady diet of lies, conspiracy theories, and threats that ultimately led to a deadly insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.

Since the attack, the party has seen at least 140,000 voters leave their ranks. They’ve also seen their favorability drop by 6 points among the electorate, while favorability toward the Democrats has risen.

Such events and revelations should have made standing up to Donald Trump an easier thing to do, post-presidency. And to their credit, some Republicans have risen to the occasion.

Among them is Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who said of President Trump on Fox News Sunday, “Somebody who has provoked an attack on the United States Capitol to prevent the counting of electoral votes, which resulted in five people dying, who refused to stand up immediately when he was asked and stop the violence, that — that is a person who does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward.”

Cheney also stated, “The oath that I took to the Constitution compelled me to vote for impeachment and it doesn’t bend to partisanship, it doesn’t bend to political pressure. It’s the most important oath that we take.”

These statements, as strong as they are, aren’t much different than the ones Cheney made immediately following the January 6th attack. But they’re important at a time when many others in her party, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have already backed off of their initial condemnations of Trump… perhaps after witnessing the political backlash Cheney has received for her principled stance.

That backlash has included the Wyoming Republican Party, after only 11 minutes of deliberation, officially censuring Cheney for her impeachment vote. It has included her approval rating among Republican Wyomingites dropping to just 10%. It’s also included two Trump-loyal primary challengers already vying for her district in 2022.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska has also come out strongly against Trump’s efforts to steal the election, as well as his role in the U.S. Capitol attack. For that, he too is facing censure from his state’s GOP.

Like Cheney, Sasse isn’t backing down. He released a video from his office last week, telling the Nebraska GOP’s State Central Committee: “You are welcome to censure me again, but let’s be clear about why: It’s because I still believe (as you used to) that politics is not about the weird worship of one dude.”

About the future of the party, Sasse added, “We’re gonna have to choose between conservatism and madness, between just railing about who we’re mad at, versus actually trying to persuade rising generations of Americans again. That’s where I’m focused. And I sincerely hope that many of you will join in celebrating these big, worthy causes for freedom.”

It’s an important point he made, because while many in today’s Republican party listen to people like Cheney, Sasse, and Mitt Romney, and only hear “Never Trump” sentiment, what these leaders are really talking about are principles that should — and would in rational times — transcend Trump (or any individual).

Yet, much of the GOP is still focused on a Trump purity test.

Additional examples include the Arizona State GOP, who recently targeted Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain (John McCain’s widow) for censure, for the sin of supporting Joe Biden in the November election. Ironically, McCain and Flake were the last Republican Senate candidates who actually managed to win in the state. Once they were off the ballots, Democrats picked up both seats with wins over Trump-convert, Martha McSally.

Even the Oregon Republican Party (yes, there is one) passed a resolution of condemnation against the ten House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment. (You’d think they’d have other things to worry about).

Of course, none of the aforementioned state parties released any form of condemnation of Trump’s actions since the election, including on what transpired on January 6th. Perhaps they’re afraid to. After all, according to national polls, over 80% of Republican voters still view Trump favorably.

A separate, rather glaring takeaway from all of this is that while the “rigged election” hoax may turn out to be the most consequential lie of the Trump presidency, there’s another whopper — shared among a huge number of Trump supporters over the past four years — that has been thoroughly debunked. I’m talking about the rationalization that Republican support for Trump has primarily been about policies, and not personality or raw tribalism. I’d heard this ad nauseam since 2017, and it never really panned out.

It’s 2021, and Trump’s gone from office. He isn’t signing legislation into law. He isn’t nominating judges. He isn’t issuing executive orders. He is completely detached from public policy, and will be for years to come (if not forever).

Yet, a current Republican lawmaker like Liz Cheney, whose policy voting record aligned with Trump over 90% of the time, is now a villain within her party. She’s been punished politically and called on to step down… not because of any policy, but because she sought constitutional accountability for the objectively abhorrent behavior of a public official who no longer has anything to offer beyond personality and raw tribalism.

And what’s Donald Trump doing now that he lost both the White House and the Senate for the Republicans, and with it much of their ability to pursue good policies and oppose bad ones? According to numerous reports, he’s plotting revenge against the sitting Republicans who supported his impeachment, by trying to get them primaried out of office.

What policy end is achieved by that, other than increasing the likelihood of Republican seats being lost to Democratic opponents in the general election, thus putting liberals in a better position to enact their policies?

No, what we’re seeing isn’t about policies. It’s about a personality cult. And if the GOP is to evolve beyond that, or even wants to, some things will need to change. That change would have to start with leadership, strong principles, a vision beyond grievance, and a respect for those who carry such mantles.

“The weird worship of one dude,” as Sasse put it, isn’t going to do the trick.

 


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