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Evidence of Trump incitement dominates impeachment trial

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — Repeated tweets by Donald Trump calling for violence January 6 have strengthened the case for the ex-president’s impeachment, as House managers documented his personal pitch for protesters to turn out in droves.

It overwhelmed an already conspicuously weak defense by Trump lawyers Wednesday, but most Senate Republicans are still expected in the end hold their noses and acquit him.

If Trump thought his new legal team would put a better face on his trial defense, he had to be dismayed at the rambling incoherence of Bruce Castor, the 11h-hour sub brought in to put lipstick on the pig of a very weak defense that impeaching a president after he has left office was unconstitutional.

Unaddressed was the well-documented Trump incitement of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol causing five deaths.

Nevertheless, the continued lockstep support of Senate Republicans against convicting him is still expected to avoid the penalty of banning him from holding future federal office. Only 55 senators voted in favor of holding the trial, and only 56 voted that the trial was constitutional. A two-thirds majority, 67 Senators, is required to convict. Thus, Trump’s hinted plans to seek a second term in 2024 cannot be dismissed.

Even so, the House prosecutors’ videos presented in the trial’s first two days were so vivid in the case against Trump that the court of public opinion seems likely to grow stronger. Whether it will shake those Senate Republicans called on to examine their own consciences and their oaths to uphold the Constitution is another question.

In a sense, the current Trump impeachment trial may turn out to be more a measure of the entire Republican Party’s ability to survive as an effective partner in the two-party system. It has long represented its traditional posture as the voice of American conservatism rather than the vehicle of one self-serving interloper who has assembled a base of personal loyalists.

The one other prominent Republican officeholder with some political clout, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, appears at least to recognize that the diminution of Trump’s influence in the party might serve his own purposes. But McConnell has to find a way to keep the Trump base engaged in party affairs as the man himself recedes in significance and influence.

Absent in any such speculation is any other rising star in the party. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the most vocal Trump critic in the ranks, is too associated with a losing presidental campaign.

If there is any new face in the party, it is that of Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who shows signs of being the next Joe McCarthy, leading the Grand Old Party down another old path of division, hate and authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, Democrats must contend with the distraction that the Trump impeachment trial poses to President Joe Biden’s efforts to return the country to a path of normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant economic downturn. Up to now, Biden has wisely left the whole Trump trial to the Senate. Biden has no need nor political interest in weighing in on the outcome, knowing what occurs will have little to do with the more constructive task before him.

In turning the page from the long Trump nightmare, Biden has hit the ground running on his own plans to extricate the country from its most severe domestic challenges. For now, he has the luxury of a honeymoon period wherein he can focus on less divisive concerns and personalities in an atmosphere of optimism, at least for the time being.

As for Trump, he may find that without the White House as the vehicle for generating and commanding the public discourse, and with Twitter and other social-media vehicles less willing or obliged to spread his serial lies and venom, his best days are now far behind him.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.

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