As the impeachment trial fizzles out this week, I’m left wondering if the GOP has lost its mind, because the only other choice is that I have.
I’m not referring to the Republican senators’ collective decision not to remove the president from office. I’ve always argued that this was a question reasonable people could differ on. I’ve argued for months now that it was obvious the president was guilty of abusing his office by pressuring the Ukrainian government to target former Vice President Joe Biden in a corruption probe. This has been obvious since he released the transcript of his conversation with the Ukrainian president, never mind when he said straight to a TV camera that he wanted Ukraine (and China) to do it.
For most of that time, taking their cues from the top, the president’s most ardent defenders treated this entirely reasonable observation as if it was both crazy and outrageous. The call was “perfect,” the president insisted over and over again, as if saying it enough times made it true.
People like my friend, radio host Hugh Hewitt, contended that even the suggestion of the president’s guilt was not just wrong, but bizarre. We live on “different impeachment planets,” in his words. Other defenders agreed. Roger Kimball, the editor of New Criterion, thought Hewitt was being generous. “In my view,” he tweeted, “Hugh’s planet is *this* planet. I am not sure what solar system Jonah’s is circulating.”
Now that all that is left of this circus is for the Republican senators to finish their speeches and fold up the tent. What was otherworldly has suddenly become grounded. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Marco Rubio (R- Fla.) were the first out of the block to explain that the president is guilty but shouldn’t be ousted for it.
In a statement, Rubio explained that he always worked from the assumption the charges were true, but: “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office.”
Alexander was even more emphatic. In his statement, he said the House managers “have proved [the charges] with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’” In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Alexander dismissed the need for more witnesses. “If you have eight witnesses who say someone left the scene of an accident, why do you need nine? I mean, the question for me was: Do I need more evidence to conclude that the president did what he did? And I concluded no.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) agreed with Alexander’s position, telling reporters that he speaks for “lots and lots of us.”
I somehow doubt there will be a torrent of outrage from Trump World at all of these senators (one never knows with Trump himself) who finally brought themselves to admit the emperor was naked all along.
One of the best — at least most effective — arguments of the White House legal team was that “partisan impeachments” are bad and if the Senate validates this one we will dive further into the “age of impeachment” — Kenneth W. Starr’s words — in which this constitutional mechanism will be weaponized for political advantage. It is difficult to exaggerate the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger hypocritical sanctimony from the president’s lead lawyers on this point.
Then, even before the curtain had a chance to fall on this impeachment, Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst said that now that the door to partisan impeachments had been opened, it was possible Republicans would impeach Joe Biden immediately if he were elected. (A few days earlier, Ernst had speculated that the impeachment discussion might have hurt Biden with Iowa caucus-goers, tacitly confirming that Trump’s plan to sully Biden had worked.) Her fellow Republicans didn’t rush to deny the possibility. Partisan impeachments, you see, aren’t bad anymore, they’re just bad when “they” do it.
One chapter in the Trump impeachment saga is ending, but the story is far from over. More evidence of the president’s guilt will come out, from former national security advisor John Bolton’s book and elsewhere. Indeed, one can be forgiven for thinking that the reason Rubio, Alexander and others felt the need to proclaim the president’s guilt has less to do with a desire to tell the truth and more with getting ahead of a future torrent of irrefutable facts. Nor should we rule out that Trump, emboldened by his “exoneration,” will do something even worse.
Starr may be right that we are entering an “age of impeachment.” But if we are it will be because hypocrisy has lost its sting, shame is something only the other side should feel, and telling the truth when it is inconvenient is a form of madness.