Impeach. Indict. Disqualify.
The final week of Trump's presidency
Welcome to the Countdown Journal: There are now nine days until the Inauguration, and the end of the Trump presidency.
A personal note: I’m feeling a sense of vindication, but also frustration.
What happened last week wasn’t just foreseeable; it was foreseen. Despite the last minute death-bed conversions and historical revisions, there is no new Trump.
This is who he was from the beginning. And, Lord knows, we have been trying to warn our fellow conservatives. If you have been reading The Bulwark or listening to our podcasts you may have been shocked by the carnage, but not by the fact that Trumpism would lead to what we saw Wednesday.
For the last two years, while much of the conservative media wrapped themselves in denial, rationalization, and anti-anti-Trumpism, we stood in the breech and shouted, “What are you thinking?
How may articles have we written about the Mad King, or the dangers of glorifying violence? How many times have we pleaded with Republicans to see the dangers of this man; the menace of his violent rhetoric, or pushed back on the toxic nihilism of the Trumpist GOP?
So forgive me, but it’s hard to take seriously Republicans who now say that they are “shocked, shocked” to find out that they have been truckling to a thoroughly corrupt and dangerous demagogue.
They were warned. Again and again.
On Sunday, former acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tried to suggest that Trump had somehow changed, that he was a different person than he was just months ago when he was his loyal yes man.
This is nonsense on stilts. It is also absurd revisionism.
Mulvaney also claimed that he was surprised that Trump’s words had consequences. "People took him literally. I never thought I'd see that.” Really?
To his credit, Chris Wallace pressed Mulvaney:
“You were a top member of the administration when the president defended the white supremacists in Charlottesville. You were a top member of the administration, not the chief of staff, when the Trump administration separated parents coming across the border from their children. Why not resign over those?” Wallace asked.
The answer, of course, is that Mulvaney thought he could ride the whirlwind. Undoubtedly, he liked the access, the power, and he made the same Faustian Bargain as the rest of the GOP.
And he was astonished to find out the price was his soul.
In many ways, the last two months have been a microcosm of the last four years. The AP’s Julie Pace writes this morning:
WASHINGTON (AP) — At the heart of the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was a lie, one that was allowed to fester and flourish by many of the same Republicans now condemning President Donald Trump for whipping his supporters into a frenzy with his false attacks on the integrity of the 2020 election.
The response from some of those GOP officials now? We didn’t think it would come to this….
That argument reveals the extent to which many Republicans have willingly turned a blind eye throughout Trump’s presidency to some of the forces coursing through America. Each time Trump promoted a conspiracy theory or openly flirted with extremist groups, Republicans assumed there were still some limits to how far he and his most loyal supporters would go.
Few seemed concerned about the worst-case scenarios, dismissing fears of violence or authoritarianism as liberal fever dreams.
Yet now, that same GOP is warning against the divisiveness of impeachment — this coming from representatives who aided and abetted Trump’s Big Lie.
As Tim Miller wrote in the Bulwark: “The fact is that almost every single one of the Republicans who talk about ‘election integrity’ now were riding shotgun in the Coupmobile until the moment things went south.”
Republicans had a chance to reach for unity by acknowledging Biden’s victory in a timely manner. Instead, they indulged Trump’s tantrum even as it morphed into a toxic stew of conspiracies theories, baseless claims, and false promises. Most of them stayed silent as the president actively tried to overturn the election, even after the Electoral College votes were cast; many of them amplified his anti-democratic falsehoods by actually voting against counting the legitimate votes that had been cast.
Some of them — including GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy — voted to overturn the election even after the insurrectionists breached the Capitol. So, with all due respect, he can STFU on the whole “healing our wounds” bit.
It could have been worse.
We’re getting more details about the horror of the attack on the Capitol, as it becomes evident that we may have narrowly avoided a mass casualty event including the kidnapping and perhaps even murder of members of Congress.
And they are coming back. The Wapo reports:
The renewed calls to action in recent days have bristled with violent talk and vows to bring guns to Washington in defiance of the city’s strict weapons laws. A new analysis of such posts by Alethea Group, an organization combating disinformation that draws its name from the Greek word for “truth,” found abundant evidence of threatening plans on a range of platforms large and small.…
“REFUSE TO BE SILENCED,” said one online post cited by Alethea Group, calling for an “ARMED MARCH ON CAPITOL HILL & ALL STATE CAPITOLS” for Jan. 17, the last Sunday of Trump’s polarizing presidency. Another post called for action at “DC & All State Capitols” and was signed by “common folk who are tired of being tread upon” declares: “We were warned!”
So what should be done?
Trump should be impeached and removed from office immediately. Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen in the next nine days.
The cabinet and VP are not likely to invoke the 25th Amendment and the Senate is unlikely to even take up a trial until after January 20.
Obviously this poses a dilemma. Taking no action means that Trump will again face no immediate consequences; but proceeding with a trial could consume the opening days of Biden’s presidency.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made it clear that House Democrats are moving forward quickly. They will vote today on a resolution urging Mike Pence to use the 2th Amendment, and failing that will vote to impeach Trump in the next two days.
But then what?
Representative James E. Clyburn (D-SC), the Democratic whip, suggested delaying any trial.
“Let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running,” said Clyburn. “And maybe we will send the articles sometime after that.”
This frustrated Trump critics, who see Trump’s continuation in office as an immediate existential threat.
But it is worth thinking about.
Impeachment is the only viable route to removal; but it is not the only route to holding Trump accountable.
There is another option: On January 20 the incoming Biden administration could announce the appointment of a special counsel who would impanel a grand jury to investigate the whole sordid mess, including the role of Donald Trump in inciting an insurrection.
That investigation could proceed while impeachment was held in abeyance and the Biden administration could get on with its agenda.
Working on a parallel track, the counsel and grand jury could gather evidence and hand down indictments. That evidence could then be used if and when the articles of impeachment were sent to the senate.
Nota bene: that senate trial would not be moot even though Trump is no longer in office. As David Leonhardt notes this morning:
The Senate has the power both to remove Trump from office and to prevent him from holding office in the future. That second power will not expire when his term ends, many constitutional scholars say. A Senate trial can happen after Jan. 20.
And disqualifying Trump from holding office again could alter the future of American politics.
So here is my modest suggestion: Impeach. Withhold. Indict. Disqualify.
Watershed moment for the right media. (I’ll have more to say about this later this week.)
I chatted with the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) the other day:
After Wednesday's events in Washington, you wrote on the Bulwark site, "it was always going to end this way, wasn't it?" But is it over in the short term or in the long term? Is this the end?
No, it's not over either in the short term or the long term. You know that the hardcore Trumpists are going to continue to contest this right up until and through Jan. 20.
I guess that's one of the big questions: was this sort of a last final spasm? Or was it, in fact, a prologue for more dissension and division in this country? And we don't know yet.
After the Capitol was secured on Wednesday night, Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley decided that they were going to continue their Trump-adjacent strategy to delegitimize the election. Were you surprised by that or did you think that was exactly what was going to happen?
That was exactly what anyone would have expected if you followed the careers of Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley, who will always put their own personal ambitions ahead of their own party and even of the country. What I found even more stunning, though, was the fact that 138 members of the House of Representatives, all Republicans, in the case of the challenge of Pennsylvania voted to disenfranchise more than seven million voters.
This is after everything that's been happening, all of the lies. And you had about 65 per cent of the House Republican caucus going along with the president's lies and trying to overturn an election, and that was a stunning moment.
The one thing that gives me a little bit of hope is the split screen between the House of Representatives which went with Trump, and what happened in the United States Senate. Because you mentioned Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, but overwhelmingly members of the United States Senate broke with Donald Trump, and that suggests that at least some elements of his party are moving very quickly into a post-Trump era.
But who goes where? Cruz and Hawley will continue to vie for Trump's base, and others like [Sen.] Tom Cotton and [Rep.] Adam Kinzinger are forcefully turning the page. So who will the party follow?
Look at what's happened in the last week and a half here. You have had Republicans willing to distance themselves from Trump and Trumpism.
They overwhelmingly overrode the veto of the defence bill. They defied the president on sending out the [relief package] cheques. They defied the president on the coup. You have Mike Pence, his loyal vice president, breaking with him. You have Mitch McConnell being critical. Even Lindsey Graham.
At least right now, I think what you have is some Republicans testing the water. Is there a Trumpism after Trump?
The question is, what does the Republican base in this country do? Are they still in this alternative reality, because the problem of the Republican Party cannot be explained simply as a leadership problem. They do have a leadership problem, but they also have a followership problem, which is the base — and the base has wanted the kinds of things that they've gotten from Donald Trump.
So the calculus was that if you broke with Donald Trump or Trumpism, that you were committing political suicide in the Republican Party. Clearly, a number of major national figures have decided that may no longer be true.
Let's just talk about Mike Pence for a minute, because there's a lot of speculation about what was going to happen leading up to Wednesday. And as you mentioned, he's now part of a long list of people who got burned by Donald Trump.
But what about you and other moderates in the Republican Party? Are you ready to welcome them back into the fold of the Republican Party? Do you think that he redeemed himself on Wednesday in the way that he played his hand?
No, he's got a long way to go to do that. I mean, simply doing your duty is a pretty low bar and certainly doesn't make up for four years of robotic sycophancy. But having said that, it was gratifying to see him draw the line and say: OK, you know what? If I have to choose between the Constitution and Donald Trump, I'm choosing the Constitution.
Now, this shouldn't be a big deal. It shouldn't be a sign of courage. But I was glad he did it.
But when you see these loyalists who are now willing to call out the president ... the attorney general Bill Barr who issued a very, very strong statement. There was a comment from the former chief of staff, former secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly saying that he thought that they ought to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Donald Trump from the presidency, and that if he was in the cabinet now, he would vote to remove Donald Trump. Now, this is remarkable.
For somebody like me, the last three or four days have really been extraordinary.
You've been counting down the days left in Trump's presidency, Charlie. How do you feel about the next 11?
It's a very long time. People are very much aware of how dangerous Donald Trump is, how desperate he is, how unhinged he is, and how unmoored to normal standards of decency or democratic polity he is. I think that's why you're seeing things like this letter from all of the former living secretaries of defence warning the military don't get involved.
Keep in mind that he may be banned from Facebook and Twitter, but he still controls the nuclear codes.
1. The “Election integrity” Lie
The people who actually care about election integrity are the ones who rejected Trump’s attempt to end American democracy and stood up to him. That includes Democrats, but also a small smattering of Republicans, including Krebs, Brad Raffensperger, and Adam Kinzinger.
Those of us in this broad pro-democracy coalition have earned the right to talk about election integrity and we must take that language back from the enemies of democracy who went along with Trump’s assault on our electoral system.
This mendacious mob aided and abetted a coup. They should wear a scarlet C for the rest of their days and every small-d democrat in this country should devote themselves to driving them out of our electoral system for good.
2. Democrats: The Time to Act Is Now.
Every Democrat believes Trump deserves to be impeached and convicted. Every Democrat knows in his or her heart that the time to do that is now, while memories are fresh, when lessons can be taught, at a moment when the necessary liberation of American politics from Trumpism can most easily begin.
But Democrats are wavering. I am alarmed that, less than five days removed from a day that will, truly, live in infamy, resolution is already giving way to uncertainty, haste to delay, the determination to act to the rationalization of inaction.
Democrats are currently being gripped by a host of doubts and are fixating on the hypothetical problems that impeachment might create. So for example, as a result of these doubts, it’s been suggested that it might be prudent to wait to impeach until after President-elect Biden has been inaugurated, confirmed a cabinet, and passed COVID-19 legislation.
Given the stakes and the uncertainty, such delay—which is born out of well-meaning concerns—is madness. Who knows what Trump will do in the next ten days? Who is to say what other more-pressing challenges might emerge by the end of Biden’s first 100 days? This is the time for action.
Charlie Kirk might want to delete more stuff.
Meanwhile, back in the GOP.
Parler est mort (for now).
The Political Context of the Assault on the Capitol
The seditious mob that attacked Congress was not an aberration—it represents a deepening dysfunction which, absent a profound national renewal, could destroy America as we know it.
These antagonists of democracy felt both alienated and empowered. Their license came from an American president who urged them on because “you’ll never take back our country with weakness.” Like 82 percent of Trump supporters, they knew Joe Biden had stolen the election. But their hatred embraced anyone who thwarted their leader—including his own vice president.
They fed on intoxicants shared by millions. Some compared Trump with Jesus. Others nurtured the deranged obsessions of QAnon; loathed multiracial democracy; or despised the media. Nothing about this distinguished them from Trump—or the 45 percent of Republicans who support their assault.
When order was restored, most Republican congressmen voted with the mob. Amidst the wreckage, two of their senatorial enablers—Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz—sent fundraising appeals. They, and others ambitious to succeed Trump, will continue fueling the bonfires of grievance and dispossession in a country riven by alternate realities—only one of which is real.