Charlie Sykes said yesterday that Trump-supporting Republican Senators “have the muscle memory of acquiescence” and that this would preclude them from voting to convict Trump for incitement of insurrection, in spite of the clear evidence of his complicity. It is certainly the case that many Republicans who once warned that Trump was a con-artist, a criminal and even a threat to the security of the republic, have developed a habit of pretending that is not so.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told his fellow Republicans that the vote to convict is a “vote of conscience”—meaning they should not consider the question to be a partisan one. Trump is not a Republican, in the case; he is a defendant, accused of inciting an insurrection in which terrorists hunted elected officials whom they planned to abduct, torment, and assassinate.
Yet we see a strong pattern of naysaying—suggesting that Trump never did anything all that awful. The reasons for this are hard to square. Each Senator swore an oath to serve the Constitution, not Donald Trump or their party or its donors or any extremist element within its ranks. Each Senator again swore an oath to render impartial judgments in this case. What is the purpose of this professed allegiance to a disgraced former leader who attempted a coup d’etat by attacking them and their place of work?
The Republican Party is right now staring into the final Trump trap—the trap that could serve Trump but degrade the Party as a meaningful mainstream political force beyond all hope of recovery. They are, frankly, about to decide whether to offer their sacred Senate vote in defense of a man who sent terrorists to kill them in a quest to end American democracy.
Whatever process argument they use to justify such a vote, they will have voted to downplay terror and insurrection and made any future stand on principle impossible. The evidence laid out this week in the Senate trial makes clear:
- Donald Trump coordinated with the insurrectionists, who were known to be plotting violence.
- It was widely known, including by Trump, that armed extremist groups had set up camp across the river and expected Trump might give an official signal to invade.
- Trump stood behind bulletproof glass and told a crowd of armed militants that if they did not fight like Hell to stop the counting of Electoral College votes—legally certified by all states and territories—the country would be lost to them.
- Trump intervened to schedule the insurrectionist event for January 6 (it had originally been scheduled post-Inauguration).
- Trump intervened to include a march and demanded that the march take the insurrectionists to the Capitol.
- After months of coordinated lies, smears, and menacing threats against public officials, all designed to subvert the Constitutional election process and radicalize supporters, Trump used the Big Lie to incite his supporters to insurrection.
- Once they invaded the Capitol, Trump abdicated his duties and aided the insurrectionists by refusing to deploy the National Guard, even after learning that pro-Trump insurrectionists were hunting the Vice President and others.
Michael Cohen—who for many years helped Trump commit illegal acts and cover his tracks—warned that Trump doesn’t specifically give the illegal command; instead, he talks insistently around the target outcome, using vehemence, repetition, and coded language, to leave his minions with no way to hold his favor but by doing as he wishes. Others have echoed Cohen’s testimony; this part of Trump’s modus operandi is well understood by those who have worked with him.
All of this is to say that the country knows, history already knows, that Republican leaders who support Trump understand this, too. Even his lawyers were at a loss for words as to how to argue a defense. Instead, they deflected and gave false testimony about the Constitution, the law, and what others witnessed. They went as far as to say Trump should be arrested, “because the Department of Justice does know what to do with such people.”
When asked on Friday whether Trump knew Pence was being hunted by a pro-Trump mob when he attacked his Vice President on Twitter, the former President’s own defense lawyers revealed through awkward answers that they do not know this critical detail. The fact that Trump knew he was sacrificing Congress and the Vice President to a murderous mob will always stand as evidence he intended them to experience harm, or at least the menacing threat of harm.
Trump has asked members of his party to shed their principles and their credibility in so many ways. It has always been a trap. He has seduced them with promise of proximity to power and the support of a messy unprincipled “movement” that is more focused on imposing its will than willing any good to happen. Now, they face the final Trump trap, the decisive moment for themselves and for the Party.
Any vote to acquit will forever bind that Senator to that betrayal of the republic. For the Republican Party as a whole to side with Trump, against Constitutional democracy, will end the Party’s credibility as a mainstream political force in American life.