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Not My Party: Krakens, Remnants, and Fears. Oh My!

Grading the Senate impeachment trial. A for effort?
February 18, 2021
Not My Party Ep. 202 - Krakens, Remnants, and Fears. Oh My!

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The most bipartisan impeachment vote in American history!

But 10 votes short of conviction. So Trump gets acquitted again.

Trump once said he could go out and “shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” And well, Senate Republicans proved it, failing to convict hm, even after he incited a cop-killing riot on our Capitol.

Republicans could have disqualified him from a future presidential run, and sent a signal to the world that we do not tolerate attacks on our democracy. But Republican senators couldn’t bring themselves to do it, because the GOP still belongs to DJT.

To understand why this happened, you need to recognize that Republican voters still want their elected officials to be loyal to Trump. The question of how to deal with that pressure from voters is dividing the politicians into three groups: the MAGA kraken, the pro-democracy remnant, and the fear caucus.

From the first group, we have these red-hatted wannabe autocrats who voted “not guilty,” and would have been giddy if the Trump coup had worked. Suddenly, they’re on the rise in this party.

Next, there are the seven people who voted their conscience despite what Republican voters wanted. “I voted to convict Donald Trump because he is guilty.” That’s Louisiana senator Bill Cassidy, and that vote is going to put him on the wrong side of his voters. The head of the Louisiana GOP told him, “Don’t expect a warm welcome when you come home.” Sadly, he’s right. I can confirm that Cassidy is going to take a lot of shit at LSU tailgates next fall. (Geaux Tigers.)

That backlash from voters explains the actions of the largest and most nauseating group of Republican senators, the fear caucus. These are the ones who privately agree with Cassidy, but are scared of getting treated like this. Because most Republican voters still want Trump to run again in 2024.

The human embodiment of the fear caucus is their leader, Mitch McConnell. Mitch voted to acquit Trump, and then afterward tried to save face with some finger-wagging at the Donald. Mitch’s excuse for not voting guilty was that the Senate couldn’t convict somebody who had already left office.

Here’s the rub: Trump was impeached by the House on January 13—seven days before he left office. And during those seven days, it was Mitch McConnell who made the Senate go on vacation so they couldn’t convict him.

So the fear caucus wants to sound real noble and constitutional, when really they’re just looking for an excuse to let Trump off the hook.

But what about the Democrats? All of them did the right thing in voting to convict Trump, but they still acted like Democrats. That small group of pro-democracy Republicans gave the Democrats a gift by voting to let them have witnesses in the impeachment trial.

House Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler wanted to testify that she overheard Trump in a phone call defending the rioters while the Capitol was still under siege.

They also could have brought Mike Pence to testify against the former boss who was happy to let him get hanged by domestic terrorists because he wouldn’t try to steal the election.

But no. The Democrats didn’t call anyone to testify. They feel like they’re up against the clock with a laundry list of policy preferences, and chose to move on to that (after a brief vacation) rather than keep a boot on Trump’s neck.

So while they get an A for effort, and I was impressed with the performances of Reps. Raskin and Neguse, they left some unfinished business which might come back to haunt them if and when the dark Trump rises.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.