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Republican elites could have prevented another Trump presidency and chose to do nothing instead


It’s always worth remembering that the Constitution affords an appropriate remedy for what Trump did on 1/6, and it wasn’t used because Republicans led by Mitch McConnell chose to support Trump’s ongoing access to the White House:

McConnell was still shaken by the siege of the Capitol. The night of the riot, when he returned to the building from Fort McNair, he had seen the splintered wood in the door to his Capitol suite left by marauders who had tried to break into his office and attack his staff. He had watched, stunned, as his aides moved furniture they had used to barricade the entrance out of the way to make room for his return. Overcome with emotion at the trauma they’d experienced, McConnell had made a vow to his aides.

“We’ve all known that Trump is crazy,” he had said. “I’m done with him. I will never speak to him again.” [LOL, yeah sure. –ed.]


McConnell was stunned at the speed with which that powerful anti-Trump sentiment had faded by the time the House voted to impeach, an indictment supported by just ten Republicans. It was clear that many of his members still feared that the outgoing president and his loyal base would come after them if they broke with Trump. In the days after the riot, as anger at Trump gave way to panic that blaming him could cost lawmakers their jobs, a large crop of rank-and-file Senate Republicans also began frantically searching for an escape hatch — a way to vote against impeachment without defending what Trump had done.

Those senators had found salvation in a Jan. 12 Washington Post op-ed written by well-known conservative attorney J. Michael Luttig, who had served as a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for fifteen years. In it, Luttig argued it was unconstitutional to impeach a former president — or for the Senate to conduct a trial against an ex-president who had been impeached while in office. The next morning, as the House prepared to impeach Trump again, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton sent the piece around to his colleagues. Soon, Trump’s most hardcore defenders became obsessed with the idea, pressing other senators to embrace the argument as a reason to oppose removal.

McConnell himself wasn’t convinced by Luttig’s logic — and he knew some of his GOP colleagues weren’t either. The argument seemed to him a “procedural off-ramp.” And McConnell was not yet sure he wanted one.

To pause here for a second, this is how the Federalist Society Industrial Complex works. The point isn’t to come up with legal arguments that are persuasive, even to other Republicans, but to produce ad hoc nonsense that bears enough resemblance to actual legal arguments to serve as a pretext for Republicans do to whatever they wanted to do ex ante anyway.

As McConnell pondered what to do, he entertained other arguments for and against conviction from various corners of the GOP. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) made a personal appeal to McConnell to use his leadership position to step out against the president to give his rank-and-file Republicans political cover to do the same. She pressed him in a series of phone calls to bring the Senate back from a congressional recess before the Biden inauguration and quickly convict Trump before he left office. Republicans would follow his lead, she insisted to McConnell. And besides, Trump still posed an ongoing threat to the country.

McConnell told Cheney he did not disagree on her last point, though he was adamant that logistically the Senate could not convict Trump in a week. In his view, Trump deserved the right to find counsel and prepare a defense no matter how guilty he was. But McConnell also acknowledged another fear to Cheney that had started to creep into his psyche: that conviction might make Trump a martyr in the eyes of his followers, empowering him in the long run. That might pose even more of a threat to the Republican Party, he feared.

“We don’t disagree on the substance; we just disagree on the tactics,” McConnell told Cheney as they conferred about how to free the GOP from Trump’s iron grip. “Let’s just ignore him.”

Ah yes, “ignore him and he’ll probably go away,” the strategy that had been working so well since 2015! Who would have thought that one would fail?

Of course, McConnell is many things, but he’s not dumb — the point wasn’t to stop Trump, the point was to pretend that failing to stop Trump wasn’t his responsibility, because somehow doing something would be worse. Next step: Republican voters support MAGA candidates because Democrats are controlling their minds.

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