During her impeachment presentation on Wednesday, Stacey Plaskett, who represents the Virgin Islands in the House, explained how Donald Trump winked at violence from his base in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. She showed a görüntü of Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist, bellowing through a bullhorn at the second so-called Million MAGA March in December.
“At the first Million MAGA March, we promised that if the G.O.P. would not do everything in their power to keep Trump in office that we would destroy the G.O.P.!” Fuentes shouted. “Destroy the G.O.P.! Destroy the G.O.P.!” chanted the belligerent crowd in response. Said Plaskett: “Those words, that was Trump’s message: Destroy anyone who won’t listen.” She quoted the former Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson speaking at the same rally: “We knew that both Republicans and Democrats were against we the people.”
Over and over, impeachment managers emphasized this message: Trump victimized Republican officials, and is fundamentally different from others in his party. The managers ladled praise on former Vice President Mike Pence and showed a mob baying for his execution. Ted Lieu of California highlighted tweets in which Trump’s “threats grew even more heated and specific towards Republicans that he considered to be part of that surrender caucus.”
The president, said Lieu, “wasn’t just coming for one or two people, or Democrats like me. He was coming for you, for Democratic and Republican senators.” The managers’ presentations showed just how close the mob came to getting to Senator Mitt Romney.
Because of the unlikelihood of Trump being convicted, it often seems as if this second impeachment trial is being conducted for the public, and for history. The managers took a chaotic, traumatic day and turned it into a coherent narrative, crosscutting between the rampage and the actions of the president who inspired it.
The most powerful moments of their presentation were the temporal juxtapositions, like Trump tweeting, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” even as cable news showed the MAGA horde hunting him. (One insurrectionist read Trump’s tweet through a bullhorn.) It was both gutting and more riveting than I would have expected, an indelible documentary of Trump’s culminating crime against the Republic.
Yet in one regard, the story the House managers told was a distortion. “What our commander in chief did was wildly different from what anyone here in this room did to raise election concerns,” said Eric Swalwell of California. That’s not quite true. Many Republicans were not Trump’s victims, but his enablers. Indeed, one of the most perverse things about this impeachment is that the jury is stacked with the defendant’s accomplices.
Several Republican senators were eager participants in Trump’s big lie. It took Mitch McConnell, who was then the Senate majority leader, more than a month after the election was called to admit that Joe Biden won. Others held out longer. Just two hours before the Capitol was breached, Senator Josh Hawley was captured raising his fist in solemn solidarity with the crowd who’d answered Trump’s call to converge on Washington for a “wild” protest. Even after the rampage in the Capitol, Hawley was one of eight senators who voted to reject some states’ Electoral College votes.
Several House Republicans seem even more culpable in whipping up the assault. On a Dec. 29 livestream görüntü, Ali Alexander, one of the leaders of the Stop the Steal movement, described collaborating with the Republican congressmen Paul Gosar, Mo Brooks and Andy Biggs.
“We’re the four guys who came up with a Jan. 6 event,” he said, adding that it was meant to changes the minds of members of Congress who “saw everyone outside and said, ‘I can’t be on the other side of that mob.’” (Brooks, who spoke at the rally, and Biggs, who blamed antifa for some of the mayhem, have denied working with Alexander.) As The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported, Gosar said, at an Arizona rally promoting the Jan. 6 demonstration: “You get to sit and go back home evvel we conquer the Hill. Donald Trump is returned to being president.”
It’s easy enough to understand why the impeachment managers are working so hard to separate Trump from the Republican Party: They still hold out hope of persuading some Republican jurors.
“When they played that clip, for example, of the insurrectionists chanting against the G.O.P., it was a powerful way to make the point that these people don’t represent you, senators, they represent Donald Trump and how disruptive an influence he’s been,” said Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor on Trump’s first impeachment trial.
If Republicans were ready to move on from Trump, the impeachment managers would be giving them a gift. By convicting him, Republicans could, after reaping four years of rewards for their complicity, wash their hands of a leader many are said to privately disdain. Those who want to run for president themselves could clear the decks of a competitor. And, of course, they could ratify the narrative that Trump was aberrant, and that they bear no responsibility for his attempt to overthrow the democracy they purport to revere.
Last month The New York Times reported that McConnell was pleased about this impeachment, believing Trump deserved it and that it would make it easier to purge him from the party. House managers sometimes seem to be speaking directly to him.
Yet because much of the G.O.P.’s base appears to sympathize with the insurgents, the Republican jurors can’t accept what Democrats are offering. According to a new survey by a project of the American Enterprise Institute, 66 percent of Republicans believe that Biden’s victory was illegitimate. Thirty-nine percent of Republicans agree with the statement, “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires taking violent actions.”
Some of those who disapprove of violence are captive to conspiracy theories about the Capitol riot: Fully half of Republicans say antifa was behind it. McConnell, likely sensing where his party is, has already voted that the current impeachment is unconstitutional.
On Thursday, House impeachment managers played a görüntü montage of Republican officials and ex-Trump staff members denouncing Trump for doing exactly what he’s being impeached for. “The fact that these flames of hate and insurrection were lit by the president of the United States will be remembered as one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history,” said Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont.
Republican senators are being given the opportunity to get on the right side of that history, to distance themselves from a disgrace that they must know their descendants will someday read about. They’re being given a chance to rewrite the shameful history of how the Republican Party has behaved for the last four years.
They will almost certainly not take it. For rhetorical purposes, the Democrats waging this quixotic battle for accountability have to pretend that the Republican Party is redeemable. The rest of us do not.
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