US Senate acquittal of Trump demonstrates GOP’s gullibility

WASHINGTON — With only a single Republican senator willing to declare President Trump guilty, his party has rolled over for him and certified its nearly complete surrender to its commitment to the rule of law in his behalf.

Of the 52 Republicans in the Senate, only Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 GOP nominee, cast a vote against him on the first of two articles of impeachment, for abuse of power.

Romney cited Trump’s withholding of military aid to Ukraine to obtain political dirt on prospective 2020 election rival former vice president Joe Biden as “grievously wrong” and “a real stain on our constitutional democracy.” He added later: “Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

He pointedly invoked his Mormon religion and his strong adherence to its principles of commitment to oath-taking to bolster his position for impeachment of Trump. The next morning at a National Prayer Breakfast, the president derided Romney while gloating over his acquittal, saying: “I don’t like people who use their faith in justification for doing what they know is wrong.”

Trump then capped the dig with another at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, adding: “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know it’s not true.” He held up newspaper headlines proclaiming his impeachment acquittal to kick off his prayer remarks.

Perhaps more telling about the party and its moral paralysis was the reason given by several Republicans who voted not guilty on the articles of impeachment. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were among four who prior to the votes had indicated they might well break party ranks and approve Trump’s conviction.

But now they hewed to the party position and voted not guilty, expressing their belief that Donald Trump had learned from the experience and would be so chastened by it as not to repeat the behavior that led to the impeachment for which he was exonerated.

Only the night before, in his fourth State of the Union address in the House, the president had insisted with no mention of the impeachment that nothing had changed. He indicated he would continue his modus operandi of doing and saying whatever he wanted, including denying any wrongdoing whatsoever and castigating all who disagreed.

Beyond that, he declared that his first term was spotless and laden with great accomplishments from a strong economy, much of which he inherited. He also cited building that great wall across the southern border that only has begun in a few short places.

The president then resorted to the device of putting in place in the House gallery a number of human props to demonstrate his humanity and appreciation of certain fellow Americans. Most of them undeniably were worthy of being singled out for their service or compassion to others. They were heads of families who had overcome dire personal hardship in or out of military service.

There was, however, one notable exception that served to continue his personal war with the news media, which he has repeatedly dubbed “the enemy of the people.” Trump saw to it that prominent radio and television defender and certified pro-Trump rabble-rouser Rush Limbaugh was in the gallery, seated next to first lady Melania Trump.

Her husband noted that Limbaugh had just announced he had an advanced case of lung cancer. On cue, Mrs. Trump placed around Limbaugh’s neck, at the president’s instruction, the highly coveted Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Republican members of Congress below stood and applauded lustily, and soon began to chant “Four More Years!” It was an echo of 1972 that predicted the re-election of President Richard Nixon.

It was the very next morning that Trump callously used a National Prayer Breakfast to attack Romney and Speaker Pelosi. It was quite a week in which he managed to escape the worst political challenge to his presidency.

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 juleswitcover@comcast.net.