For Americans who caught Day 1 of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump — a Tuesday afternoon devoted primarily to the fairly dry topic of constitutional standing — the result was shockingly one-sided. Not the outcome, of course (and more about that in a moment) but the argument. Not only did Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin and his fellow House managers provide the far more compelling case for why the Senate should move forward with its impeachment trial, but the counter-argument offered by Mr. Trump’s lawyers was so meandering and weak that it seemed almost comical. It was as if Mr. Trump’s B-team defenders, hired as replacements just one week earlier, had not adequately prepared. Or perhaps thought on-the-spot improvising was sufficient. That Mr. Trump is reportedly upset with their presentation is thoroughly unsurprising. The more important question is: Does it even matter?
Ultimately, the Senate voted 56-44 to proceed with six Republicans joining the Democrats. This follows a previous test vote on the matter with one exception — Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who told reporters afterward that he was persuaded by the presentation from Mr. Raskin and his cohorts. In other words, Sen. Cassidy did his job as an impartial juror, finding the managers’ argument more compelling while viewing the defense attorneys as “unfocused.” Anyone watching from home would have to chime in, “duh.” Not since Adam was caught breaking a commandment in the Garden of Eden has a verdict seemed more obvious. And so the surprise was not that Senator Cassidy saw the light, it’s that 44 of his colleagues were so blinded to it. And that was merely on standing with a vote that was not determinative. Everyone knew Democrats were going to carry the day.
Here’s another flash: Mr. Trump is not going to be found guilty. Whatever is said this week, it’s obvious that there is no chance that enough GOP senators will join their Democratic colleagues to convict on a two-thirds vote even if the only tangible consequence involves Mr. Trump’s eligibility to seek federal office in the future. Mr. Trump’s lock on the party has often been compared to a religious cult given the staunchness of his support even as his administration descended into madness in its final weeks. That doesn’t make the impeachment trial any less necessary: Americans still deserve to see some reasonable effort made at accountability for the events leading up to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. But it’s the painful reality.
So here’s what the trial has thus far made crystal clear: The former president is not the only person about to be judged at the conclusion of this proceeding. As Americans tune in to watch the evidence (much of it captured so memorably on video) and hear the arguments, they will form their own opinions. Not just about Mr. Trump but about those senators who can see and hear the same things and yet care not a whit about them. Mr. Trump’s lies about the election, his exhortation to his supporters to storm Congress and to overturn the results as they were being recorded, the frightening insurrection that left five dead and injured many more, they combine to form a compelling narrative of incitement to insurrection if not outright treason. To hear all this played out again — sitting with so many who experienced this horror first-hand — and yet to be completely inured to what happened is almost unfathomable.
What are Americans to make of this? Simply standard partisanship? Another day at the office in the halls of Congress? Sorry, but that just doesn’t wash. Mr. Trump did not engage in the standard political bloviation. The attack was not just another wayward demonstration. Not when overturning the federal government was at its heart. The nation has already decided that it needs a new president. That was resolved in November. What it is witnessing this week is evidence that it also needs a new Republican Party. One with members who put country, honor and duty first and not their allegiance to a con man willing to toss all democratic norms when they do not serve his purpose.
Impeachment is not about putting on trial the 74 million or so people who voted for Donald Trump. But it is about holding accountable the former president for the actions he took that culminated with the Capitol attack. And it is just as much about considering the fitness of GOP senators who would so easily excuse his culpability and abandon their own oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Voters should take careful note of their senators’ actions and inactions at this historic moment and pass judgment accordingly, albeit peacefully, at the ballot box. It may be the only place where justice can eventually, assuredly, appropriately, be done.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.