Mitch McConnell drove the final nail in Donald Trump’s impeachment coffin, but the pine box was empty.
Trump and his brand of racist, white supremacist extremism escaped, despite McConnell’s condemnation of the former president for his actions leading up to, and on the day of, the Jan. 6 insurrection.
No matter what was said on the floor of the Senate, Trump, his sycophants and right wing media will portray the 57-43 vote to acquit Trump as another “witch hunt” that ended in exoneration.
Trump played on that very theme in a statement released after the vote.
“This has been yet another phase in the greatest which hunt in the history of the Country,” he said.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again, has only just begun,” he continued.
There was no contrition or apology for the damages he caused or the lives that were lost.
A two-thirds vote was necessary for conviction, which would have required 17 Republicans to reach the 67-vote threshold.
The right-wing extremist groups that served as Trump’s shock troops and the thousands of others who bought into Trump’s “big lie” to storm the Capitol will be, not subdued, but emboldened by the acquittal.
Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn are already stoking Trump’s extremist base in speeches and over social media, a continuation of their actions prior to the insurrections.
Bannon’s message was clear: Protesters could disrupt Joe Biden’s certification as President and pressure Vice President Mike Pence to throw out the vote by storming the Capitol building.
Flynn called on the president to invoke martial law to maintain his grip on power.
The insurrection failed. Five people including a police officer died, more than 100 police officers were injured and more than 200 people have been arrested so far.
But today, Bannon is sounding the same themes over Apple’s podcast app, which is installed by default on every iPhone, according to an eye-opening report by ProPublica, a non-profit organization that tracks abuses of government power.
Bannon and other Trump sycophants like Sebastian Gorka and Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton are working overtime to keep the embers of the hard-right movement hot.
Fox News talking heads like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro among others incited extremists before the riot and are still fanning the flames afterward.
The case against Trump was so compelling, Republicans were in a quandary. His actions had created a real and potentially lasting fissure in the party.
McConnell faced a Solomon-like decision: how to protect Trump, assuage his supporters and save his own skin as minority leader while acknowledging the gravity of Trump’s actions.
He chose to split the baby.
He joined 42 Trump hardliners to acquit the former president of the single charge of inciting an insurrection, while strongly condemning Trump for his actions.
“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” he intoned.
“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.”
To acquit Trump, he relied on a technicality: The Constitutional question whether a president could be impeached after leaving office.
But to do so, he had to violate the Senate’s own rules. By a 56 to 44 vote, the Senate rejected arguments the impeachment of a former president was unconstitutional.
Six Republicans joined all 50 Democratic senators in voting to move forward with the trial. Under the Senate’s rules, the issue was decided.
But McConnell proved, once again, that nothing would stand in the way of his desire to hold onto power.
As a result, Trump’s grip on the GOP through his appeal to right-wing extremism remains as strong as ever. Nothing McConnell said on the Senate floor will change that.
Today was the day for Republicans to stand up on behalf of the Constitution and nation and break Trump’s cult-like hold on the party.
They chose instead to pander to Trump’s base–conspiracy mongers, evangelical Christians and hard right militants–and by their action, set the stage for continued political strife and violence.