With less than two weeks before the end of our long national nightmare, when Donald Trump will finally be evicted from the White House, the questions now should be not only about Trump’s fate but also about the fate of Trumpism.
Trump may be dangerous — in fact, Nancy Pelosi has asked Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chief of Staffs, to keep Trump away from the nuclear codes until he is truly and finally gone — but Trumpism is, to paraphrase John Dean, a cancer on American democracy.
To kill off Trumpism, though, people have to act. They’ve already de-elected Trump, but that’s not enough, not after the deadly assault on the Capitol incited by Trump. Have you seen the videos — the crowd chanting to hang Mike Pence? These are people Trump said were very special. If Trump were to resign — the best course here — I’m not sure he should count on a Pence pardon. We’re waiting, of course, for Trump to pardon himself — a constitutionally questionable act — as well as his family. Wouldn’t that, at last long, be the final blow? How could it not be?
The problem is, Congress can’t act without Senate Republicans finally facing the truth about Trump and, in a more difficult task, the truth about themselves and the role they’ve played in enabling Trump over the years. There is clearly a split in the Republican Party, but does that translate into action? More than a few Republicans are already lashing out at the prime Senate abettors, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. Hawley’s mentor, former Sen. John Danforth, said supporting Hawley was the greatest mistake of his life. The loathsome Cruz was already the most unpopular senator on both sides of the aisle.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and whip Steve Scalise both voted against the Biden electors even after the assault. But so did a large majority of their caucus.
There needs to be a reckoning. The assault on Congress can’t go unanswered. There needs to be a Howard Baker moment. An unprecedented second impeachment is the option that Democrats are calling for, even if a Senate trial — as it now seems — wouldn’t begin until a day or so after Joe Biden’s inaugural. What’s the point of that? The point would be that if Trump were convicted, the Senate could then, by a simple majority vote, ensure that he could not run again for federal office. Yes, a full and final reckoning, one even more damaging than Trump permanently losing his Twitter account.
Would it break the fever? Probably not. Would it be a start? We’d have to hope so. Would it interfere with the early days of a Biden presidency? Yes, but action is just that important.
There are a handful of Senate Republicans we’ve heard from. Ben Sasse. Lisa Murkowski, who is threatening to leave the party if Trump doesn’t resign. Mitt Romney was the lone Republican to have voted to convict and remove Trump the first time around. Susan Collins would get another shot. Cory Gardner must be relieved he won’t have to study the situation. To get a conviction, 17 or so Republicans would have to be ready to make that choice. Democrats are saying they’ve heard from a number of Republicans willing to listen. But if there aren’t enough Republicans, there’s really no point. And then what?
The 25th Amendment, which would require Trump’s sycophantic Cabinet to act, is a non-starter. I could see Congress settling for the strongest bipartisan censure possible with a demand for resignation. Is that enough? It’s up to the Republicans, who have already seen members assaulted (verbally, anyway) for not supporting Trump in his bogus attempt to overturn the election results.
And yet, we should remember what a bridge too far looks like. Locking up children at the border didn’t cause defections from Trumpism. Shaking down a foreign leader didn’t do it. The Mueller report didn’t do it. Being Putin’s lapdog didn’t do it. Palling around with the Saudis who killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi didn’t do it. Praising QAnon and asking the Proud Boys to stand by didn’t do it. Saying there were very fine people on both sides of the neo-Nazi parade in Charlottesville didn’t do it. The parade of hacks being convicted of Trump-related crimes, and then being pardoned in the name of phony patriotism, didn’t do it.
Seventy-four million people voted to re-elect Trump. It’s a haunting number, as haunting in its own way as the number of Republicans — more than half the party caucus in Congress, including Colorado’s own Doug Lamborn and Lauren Boebert — voted to object to accepting the obvious, that there was no meaningful voting fraud in the 2020 election. No matter that you can draw a straight line from the mobs at the Capitol to the bogus insistence by Trump and his allies that there was massive fraud committed, but apparently only in states that Biden won.
Rep. Ken Buck, who has strongly backed Trump’s bogus arguments before, surprisingly decided not to go along this time. My guess is it means he’s planning to run for Senate against Michael Bennet in 2022. Or maybe, although a long shot, he suddenly got religion. We’ll know more if and when there’s another impeachment vote.
Five people died in the assault of the Capitol. One QAnon supporter was shot and killed by the Capitol police. A Capitol police officer died. Three other people died from what has been described as medical emergencies. Now investigations begin into how this breach could happen when the right-wing insurrections had been openly promising an assault. Despite what you hear from Trumpian flat earthers like Colorado state Rep. Mark Baisley, this was not an antifa operation. Among the groups represented there, according to the anti-Defamation League, were the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Groyper Army, the Three Percenters and a number of militia groups.
The danger to members of Congress was apparently greater than anyone outside the building realized. We have seen the quick action from Rep. Jason Crow, the former Army Ranger, when the insurrectionists were at the House chambers door.
What I’ve understood for most of Trump’s tenure is that only Trump’s unacceptable extremism could kill off the malignancy that is Trumpism. But have we reached the point when someone other than columnists and Democrats and never-Trumpers will ask Trump, in the Welch-McCarthy mold, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Something must be done in the meantime. This was an insurrection. This was an attack on Congress. People did die. Trump, Cruz, Hawley and others have blood on their hands, George Will wrote that Trump, Hawley and Cruz should have to wear a scarlet “S” for sedition. It was Trump, in his usual role in opposition to democracy, who had called on his followers, at a pre-riot rally, to march on the Capitol and show, well, strength. And it was Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani who offered his exhortation for “trial by combat.” It was Don Jr. spurring them on. It was Ivanka Trump tweeting that the rioters were “patriots” before deleting the tweet. It was Hawley and Cruz who had cynically forced Congress to make the absurd vote on rejecting fairly chosen electors. Without Hawley and Cruz, who also continued to object after the riot, there would have been no votes and presumably no mobs in the Capitol.
If you watched Trump’s hostage-style video saying there will be a peaceful transfer power, you also saw Trump condemning the violence at the Capitol. He made the video, according to the New York Times, because his lawyers had convinced him he might face charges of incitement. By Friday, he was lamenting that he made the video. It was Charlottesville all over again.
As you may recall, the day before, in a non-hostage situation, he made another video professing his “love” for the rioters and saying they were “special people.” And as the rioters charged into the Capitol, Trump was watching it all on TV privately blasting loyalist Pence for not trying to rescue his presidency.
It is time for congressional Republicans to come to terms with what happened at the Capitol. It’s time for everyone to understand that history and justice demand some kind of reckoning — and, yes, various prosecutors may yet have their say — and for Congress to make a forceful statement that Trump must go. Now. And forever.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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