“So the point I’m trying to make is you don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. [...] Because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”
No, that’s not Reps. Jamie Raskin or Stacey Plaskett this week laying out the case against Donald Trump. It’s then-Rep. Lindsey Graham in January 1999 speaking as an impeachment manager in the Senate trial of Bill Clinton for lying about sex. On Thursday, Sens. Graham and Ted Cruz and Mike Lee met for an extended period strategizing behind closed doors with the Trump defense team not on how to cleanse and restore the office of the presidency, but how to twist the record to defend Trump against behavior that tens of millions of Americans with a television saw him do repeatedly over the past several months.
Okay, pointing out Lindsey Graham’s hypocrisy long ago reached the level of cliché. Even quoting him being scathing about what he thought of Trump before the election and the utter servility we see now doesn’t matter to him. And it obviously doesn’t matter to the South Carolina voters who in November stuck him back in the Senate for another insufferable six years. Neither does hypocrisy matter to most other Republican senators. After all, 13 who were representatives who voted to impeach Clinton or senators who voted to convict him 22 years ago are now in the Senate, every one of them primed to acquit Trump. Only a few Republican senators haven’t told us directly or indirectly how they expect to vote when the time comes.
Yet even now, when newscasters, media analysts, and veteran political junkies repeat that no way will 17 Republican senators be persuaded to join Democrats in convicting Donald Trump of inciting insurrection, you can still sometimes catch a whiff of hope in their tone that perhaps they’ll be proved wrong. That perhaps those Republicans actually paying attention to the proceedings will not remain impervious to the truth. That they will abandon the view that an impeachment trial after the defendant has left office is a waste of time as well as the debunked assertion that it is unconstitutional. That they won’t align themselves with the eight senators who cozied up to Trump’s lies about fraud and voted to overturn the election results. That their vote on impeachment won’t cause gagging across the land every time in the future they label themselves “patriots.” That maybe, just maybe, enough Republicans will stop cowering at the feet of the departed Trump and quit worrying about what his cultists may do in two years at the polls.
Unfortunately, no maybes about it.
The worst part of this is that these men and women aren’t blind and they aren’t stupid. Whatever they say for the cameras, they know the truth of the situation. They know that Trump has been ramping up the incitement since his campaign began in 2015. They know that injecting a “be peaceful” into one incendiary speech out of the dozens he’s made isn’t acquittal territory. They know that he’s overturned practically every presidential norm in existence, ultimately topping it with the cherry of incitement dedicated to undermining the foundations of democracy. They know that if he had been reelected, he would right this minute be enhancing the autocratic practices with which he already had damaged the presidency and the republic in his four terrible years in the White House. They know he’s a liar, they know he’s a thief, they know he’s a relentless conniver, and they know—with nearly half a million Americans dead of COVID-19—that his ineptitude knows no bounds. Most of all, they know that Trump’s behavior may well have irrevocably split the Republican Party.
But still these senators will vote to acquit. They will ignore the criminality the videos at the Capitol show. They will deny the assertions of the insurrectionists who said coming to Washington was in answer to Trump’s call. They will prove that they just don’t give a good goddamn for the democratic values they tell audiences on the campaign trail and patriotic holidays that they hold sacred.
After Clinton’s acquittal, Lindsey Graham said, "People have made up their mind in a political fashion that will hurt this country long term." You can be sure he won’t be repeating that line again today. Nor will he be talking about cleansing the office of the presidency or restoring its dignity and integrity. He’s shown himself way beyond being able to restore his own.