GOP Senators Are Demanding a Show Trial. So Give It To Them.
As the second Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump gets underway in earnest, we know exactly where the Republican Party stands. Most GOP senators voted to dismiss the case before it began, declaring their intention to let Trump off, regardless of the evidence. On Tuesday, 44 of 50 Republicans again voted not to hold the trial after hearing tendentious arguments from Trump’s lawyers, who spoke about everything except what Trump did.
But Republicans’ refusal to even consider the ample proof that Trump incited an attack on the Senate itself actually provides the House managers prosecuting the case with a unique opportunity: to place those GOP senators in the dock along with Trump, before a jury that has not prejudged the case — the American people.
Show trials, where the outcome is decided before the jury hears any evidence, have proven their value before. In 1969, the Nixon administration tried using the trial of the Chicago Eight to prove that student radicals and the Black Panthers were responsible for the riots during the prior year’s Democratic National Convention, and thereby discredit the anti-Vietnam War movement. Thanks, however, to the calculated showmanship of Abbie Hoffman and the other defendants, the trial ended up proving to the nation that the police had planned and carried out the violence against peaceful protestors. Likewise, Clarence Darrow turned the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial” prosecution of a teacher for including the theory of evolution in his curriculum into a national reckoning on the danger of governmental attacks on empiricism and science.
All Your Most Paranoid Impeachment Questions, Answered. Again.
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Despite past precedent, the impeachment managers are reportedly wary of placing the Republican Party on trial along with Trump because they fear that doing so will decrease their chances of obtaining the requisite supermajority vote in favor of conviction. Yet the GOP has already made clear there is virtually no chance that the managers will obtain a supermajority vote to convict, regardless of how the managers frame their case.
When the vast majority of congressional Republicans voted to dismiss the charges against Trump based on the wholly meritless legal theory that a president can escape impeachment, their purpose was plain: to allow Trump to avoid any consequences for inciting an insurrection against democracy, while also avoiding any accountability for excusing Trump’s illegal actions. The impeachment trial is an opportunity for the prosecutors to impose the needed accountability.
As Greg Sargent argued in the Washington Post, GOP senators’ open and notorious scheme to turn the impeachment trial into a sham is of a piece with their, and their party’s, conduct since the election, and indeed throughout Trump’s presidency, during which they repeatedly abetted Trump’s misconduct. On occasion, they did so by directly joining in Trump’s attacks on democracy, such as Sen. Josh Hawley’s shameless effort to jump-start his own presidential campaign by fanning the flames of Trump’s attack on the election. But more often the GOP abetted Trump through inaction and a refusal to acknowledge, let alone oppose, his illegal conduct — as they are now seeking to do once again.
The GOP senators’ refusal to consider the evidence presented at trial will stand as additional proof of their culpability.
That’s great material for the managers, who plan to detail Trump’s monthslong attack on the outcome of the election, and his successful effort to induce large numbers of his followers to attack the very center of the nation’s democracy. Such an account can easily be supplemented, and indeed will not be complete without demonstrating the role of other Republican officeholders in assisting Trump’s scheme. The GOP senators’ refusal to consider the evidence presented at trial will stand as additional proof of their culpability.
Using the trial to demonstrate the GOP’s culpability, both for supporting Trump’s attack on the election in the weeks following the election, and for excusing his liability for inciting the attack on the Capital thereafter, could turn a sham trial into a moment of reckoning for the nation, not only with Trump’s attack on democracy but also with the Republican Party’s culpable obeisance to him.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that 45 of 50 Republicans voted on Tuesday not to hold the impeachment trial. That number is 44.