The GOP Heads Further Out on a Limb

Let's look at why and what might happen

The consensus among pundits is that soon GOP senators will allow former President Trump to escape conviction in his second impeachment trial—despite Mr. Trump’s overwhelming guilt. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post about the House’s initial brief:

The conclusion of the brief — that such behavior, if it is not punished, will be repeated — is so elementary and the conduct is so egregious that one is tempted to ask why a trial is even needed. The misconduct is indisputably a “high crime and misdemeanor” and the need for deterrence is so obvious that one is hard-pressed to think of any principled objection.

The case for convicting Trump has now been meticulously laid out by the House Impeachment Managers. They presented the case so well that Senators from both sides of the aisle agreed they did a superb job. But, sadly, neither the facts, the law, congressional oaths of office, justice, nor personal integrity are what matters. Rather, Republican politicians are concerned about backlash and winning future elections. Senator Rand Paul expressed their fear succinctly,

If Republicans go along with [the impeachment], it will destroy the party. A third of the Republicans will leave the party.

It’s not that Republican Senators think Mr. Trump is innocent. They don’t. As Senator Sherrod Brown discloses in his New York Times opinion piece:

In private, many of my colleagues agree that the president is reckless and unfit. They admit his lies. And they acknowledge what he did was wrong. They know this president has done things Richard Nixon never did. And they know that more damning evidence is likely to come out.

What these Senators are more concerned about than preserving democracy is their own careers. Senator Brown clearly describes their dilemma,

For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator. They are afraid that Mr. Trump might give them a nickname like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Lyin’ Ted,” or that he might tweet about their disloyalty. Or — worst of all — that he might come to their state to campaign against them in the Republican primary. They worry:

“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”

“Will the mouthpieces on talk radio go after me?”

“Will the Twitter trolls turn their followers against me?”

Beyond that, GOP senators also have to fear retribution from the GOP itself, as Senator Ben Sasse and Representative Liz Cheney found out when their state GOP parties moved to censure them after they spoke out against Trump.

So in short, a great many GOP Senators—who comprise most but not all of the current class—are afraid to do their constitutional duty and punish someone who incited an insurrection. We’ll call them the Insurrection Caucus, so as not to impune upstanding Americans like Mitch Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Patrick Toomey.

For the Insurrection Caucus, it is more than just avoiding an attack from Trump. They also fear they will be exposed for spreading The Big Lie. As Rubin phrases it:

Let’s be clear: The vast majority of Republicans will refuse to convict because it would mean acknowledging their own complicity in riling up the MAGA base. It would mean acknowledging that their objections to the election results were specious and that their attempt to overthrow the election even after the mob was cleared from the Capitol was reprehensible. It would mean definitively standing up for the Constitution and democracy, instead of clinging to a seditious president’s fictitious version of events.

Take the example of Lindsay Graham, who perpetuated the election fraud lie ahead of the Capitol Riot, then thoroughly and truthfully outlined why Biden won, only to be badgered and called a traitor by people in the airport.

As a result, the Insurrection Caucus is moving further out on the proverbial tree limb—a limb that is going to break because the truth is going to come out. As Hannah Arendt puts it, “No matter how large the tissue of falsehood that an experienced liar has to offer, it will never be large enough … to cover the immensity of factuality.”  Once that happens, the Insurrection Caucus is going to be on record as having been perpetrators of The Big Lie.

Even if they are going to dispense with their congressional oaths for their own personal gain, they should realize that sticking with Trump has diminishing returns. Trump lost the presidency and lost control of the Senate. People are going to realize they were misled. When this reaches critical mass, voters will turn on the Republican party.

The Insurrection Caucus will have to rehabilitate themselves and the party. Maybe Senators can eventually get forgiveness from their voters. But, if they want to win in 2022, they should dump Trump as fast as possible. This will give them the maximum time to rehabilitate. In their own self-interest, the GOP should not leave growing anger out there like a landmine waiting to explode by surprise. They should explode it now rather than waiting until the next election gets closer.