Democrats and journalists greeted Liz Cheney as a liberator yesterday when she announced she would vote to impeach President Trump. Cheney, the House GOP conference chair, did not mince her words: ‘The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President.’
It was an appropriate and direct statement that got at the heart of legally impeaching the President for a second time. But it was the New York Times story about Mitch McConnell reportedly favoring and leaning toward a Senate conviction that really got the punchbowl flies buzzing in DC yesterday. A McConnell spokesperson has just announced that the Senate will not be back in session until the day before Biden’s inauguration.
So what started as an urgent and necessary action to remove Trump following the events of January 6 has devolved into theater for the cameras. The President’s closest allies in Congress are sticking by him; even members of Congress who have publicly opposed Trump are calling this particular impeachment effort a piece of political pantomime. Sen. Tim Scott will oppose impeachment, as will new Rep. Nancy Mace, a vocal critic of Trump and the events at the Capitol on January 6.
As long as Trump’s most loyal Republicans stand by him, the message of impeachment will be one driven by a highly divisive media and partisans in Congress, the ‘muh establishment’ trying to regain a foothold. The message from Congress regarding the President’s conduct has to be unanimous and should have happened quicker. The longer this now drags out, the more pointless it looks. The end-goal should not be maximum political damage to the GOP, though many of its members have well earned the incoming years of scorn. The goal should be to remove Trump to avoid any further incitement or conflict ahead of Biden’s inauguration, an event that will see hundreds of National Guard members policing Washington.
Unless high-profile members of the GOP are willing to cross the rubicon then the exercise becomes futile and purely political. Perhaps that’s what House Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Steve Scalise, Rep. Jim Jordan and other staunch allies of Trump in Congress are counting on.
The other undeniable factor at play here are Trump’s voters — over 70 million of them. With Trump off Twitter and Facebook, there is an eerie aura of uneasiness. Trump’s social-media tantrums were a window into the mind of his voters. They were a way to know what they were thinking along with him. Now many members are reportedly in fear for their lives and physical safety, should they vote to impeach and convict. The party should not be ruled by a heckler’s veto and the fallout of the Capitol siege won’t truly be known until GOP voters have a last say in 2022 and 2024. Trump’s influence within the party has been severely diminished by his actions but his voters aren’t going anywhere.
Only then will the party have a full picture if expelling Trump at the behest of Liz Cheney and Mitch McConnell is a return to pre-Trump politics, or the birth of a new populist Tea Party. No one — the media, professional NeverTrumpers, GOP establishment grandees who tolerated Trump for the past four years — should have any misconceptions. They aren’t going to sweep back into power like the tanks rolling in Baghdad. Liz Cheney will be a hero to the media only as long as she goes along with Joe Biden’s agenda. The GOP as the professional class knew it will not magically reappear. The only question is what actually will come after Trump: right now, no one really knows. That’s the scary part.