Trump Owes It All to McConnell’s ‘Disgraceful Dereliction of Duty’
One year ago, the U.S. Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump, who just a couple of weeks earlier had been the President of the United States. Three years from now, he could be that again, thanks to the Republicans who knew better but nonetheless let him off the hook.
The vote was 57-43 in favor of convicting Trump for inciting the Capitol riot, which was the citizen militia portion of Trump’s months-long attempted coup that had begun in earnest when he convinced tens of millions of Americans of the bald-faced lie that a massive, multi-state conspiracy of voter fraud had denied him re-election.
Seven Republicans crossed party lines to vote with every Democrat and independent to hold Trump accountable for his high crimes, and to bar him from ever holding office again—but the effort failed by 10 votes, short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict.
Following the verdict, quite a few senators delivered impassioned remarks on the trial, the failed coup, and the damage Trump’s Big Lie continued to inflict on basic democratic norms.
I watched most of them (for work, of course), but only one stood out for me at the time and continues to do so today. It was an impassioned, righteously furious, and enthralling speech.
“January 6th was a disgrace. American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of democratic business they did not like.
Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president,” the senator began.
“They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth—because he was angry he’d lost an election. Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” the senator continued, laying out just how insane the basic facts about the impeachment really were.
Then the senator made a no–bullshit and succinct case for conviction:
“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.”
The senator who delivered this Beltway-meets-Braveheart monologue for the ages was a Republican. And not just any Republican—it was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the boss of the congressional GOP.
This was the speech McConnell gave explaining why he voted to acquit Trump, thus leaving the person “practically and morally responsible” for Jan. 6 unpunished, and free to serve as president again.
The TL;DR version is an interpretation (disputed by about as many who support it) which holds that the Senate has no authority to convict a private citizen. If Trump were still president, the argument goes, Mitch would have voted to convict.
Knowing McConnell’s shameless ability to go back on his word and serve the interests of the Republican Party above all else, it’s hard to believe he would have done so unless there was zero chance that he’d be the deciding vote (and probably not even then).
Trump’s acquittal provided McConnell the cover to have his words lambasting Trump and his crimes entered into the congressional record, for posterity. For history.
But in the here and now—one year later—Trump is still the de facto favorite (and there isn’t a close second) for the 2024 GOP nomination.
Worse, the Republican Party on Feb. 4 of this year censured GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their heretical insistence that Jan. 6 was a high crime that deserves a proper investigation, embodied by their participation in the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
The two members of Congress were contributing to the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse,” said the Republican Party.
And though the GOP quickly clarified that it was not referring to the actual Capitol rioters, but the other very fine people who believe lies the president told them (and which the rest of the GOP leadership was too cowardly to forcefully repudiate.)
The weasel-wording aside, let’s be clear about what the Republicans have done here: they legitimized belief in the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and they tacitly provided cover for those angry enough about the Big Lie to storm the Capitol.
I don’t care if you think Cheney and Kinzinger are self-interested hacks or how much you hate their politics. In this case, they’re doing the right thing.
Any Republican who would describe the baseless denial of election results and shattering the norm of “peaceful transfer of power” as “legitimate discourse” can no longer credibly claim to value American democracy more than the consolidation of political resources, and, perhaps, “owning the libs.”
Trump’s political career could have been permanently ended a year ago if McConnell and nine other Republicans had voted their consciences to convict.
They could have rebirthed their party, if only they had shown a modicum of principle, and remained steadfast against the ire of MAGA dead-enders.
Instead, the GOP is now the party of permanent Trump. They’ve codified the Big Lie, an attempted coup, and the Jan. 6 riot as part of the “legitimate political discourse.”
And it looks like McConnell has at least some regrets.
He recently took a rare swing at his own party—rebuking the RNC for its censure of Cheney and Kinzinger, and calling the Capitol riot an insurrection committed by a “mob” that used “fear and violence” to intimidate Congress after being “fed lies” by “the president and other powerful people.” But he still doesn’t support the Jan. 6 Commission, making his latest stab at bravery only half-courageous.
McConnell’s post-impeachment speech was a sermon fit for a prosecuting attorney’s closing remarks to the jury. But his words are meaningless, because he kept Trump’s political fortunes alive, and left the former president’s crimes against America unpunished.