Senate Republicans once again showed the limits of their willingness to hold Donald Trump accountable for his actions. Those limits include the occasional disapproving statement, but emphatically do not include following through when he’s impeached. Just five Republicans voted to even allow the impeachment trial to go forward when Sen. Rand Paul tried to block it on the grounds that Trump is already out of office.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had used leaks that he might vote for conviction to con the traditional media into portraying him as a fair broker, was not one of those five Republican votes. Sen. Rob Portman, who likes to be seen as a reasonable guy who’d consider bipartisan action and who doesn’t have to worry about a primary because he’s retiring, was not one of those five Republican votes.
Nope, the only Republicans who were even open to hearing the evidence on Donald Trump inciting an insurrection that physically threatened all of them were Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey. Murkowski and Romney probably meant it, Collins and Sasse knew that the time had come when they had to do something do justify continuing coverage of their supposed distaste for Trumpism, and Toomey is retiring.
Here’s the really perfect, chef’s kiss part of McConnell voting against a retroactive impeachment trial: Two weeks ago, when he was still majority leader and Trump was still in office, McConnell refused to reconvene the Senate for a trial. But at the same time, he leaked that he might maybe vote to convict, getting the Very Serious Reasonable Person headlines he was seeking. Now McConnell turns around and votes against holding a retroactive trial that is only retroactive because of him.
I’d say, “Do they not think we’re going to notice what they’re doing?” Except that McConnell has the measure of the traditional media, most of which will absolutely allow itself to get played in this way. To really oomph up the level of “Are you kidding me?” involved here, Republicans decided to hear from their go-to constitutional law scholar, Jonathan Turley, about how retroactive trials are no good … even though in 1999 he strongly endorsed retroactive trials.
The next level of Republican procedural objection will be because Chief Justice John Roberts isn't presiding over the trial, which was 100% his decision and apparently didn’t come with any indication that he is opting out because he considers the trial illegitimate. But Sen. Patrick Leahy, the most senior Democrat in the chamber, will be presiding, which Republicans will use to suggest it’s a partisan event even though Leahy is scrupulously fair, frequently to a self-owning extent.
It remains possible that evidence of Trump’s incitement of insurrection will emerge that’s so strong that not even most Republicans can ignore it. But in the absence of that, consider the wagons fully circled around Trump, and don’t be surprised by it.