Molly Jong-Fast, Daily Beast Editor-At-Large, explains how Jamie Raskin and the Democrats Exposed Trump and the GOP Knows It. Impeachment no longer feels like a punishment for Trump so much as a necessity for democracy.
It was an odd impeachment from the moment it began, with lawyers arguing to a jury filled with victims and co-conspirators (hey, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz) in a trial being held at the scene of the actual crime, in a chamber that had been breached by Trump’s insurrectionists. No one was exactly excited to be here to impeach Trump, again. Democrats, eager to get to lawmaking, were nervous about looking partisan and burning political capital. Republicans just want to pretend the whole storming-the-Capitol-at-Trump’s-behest thing never happened. But there’s no moving on when the preservation of our democracy could come down to how well Democrats narrate what happened on Jan. 6.
And luckily for democracy, Democratic impeachment manager Jamie Raskin’s emotional speech Tuesday put what’s at stake in stark relief. I’m not sure if these impeachment managers were that much better or if the world has just shifted so much in the year since Trump was last tried, but impeachment no longer feels like a punishment for Trump so much as a necessity for democracy. Either things matter or they don’t. Either Congress says armed insurrections are not OK and protects the principle and practice of a peaceful transfer of power, or next time the coup succeeds. We can’t hope that the next president won’t try a coup; we have to strengthen those democratic rails now.
Raskin started with a joke about how he was not going to wax on about the Federalist Papers, but he managed to invoke the Constitution many times, which was good, since Republicans are super into textualism (though of course they really aren’t).
“They want to call the trial over before any evidence is introduced,” Raskin said and went right into his “cold hard facts” in the form of a video showing what happened on Jan. 6. That was profoundly damning in a way that perhaps no witness could be; it brought us back to that traumatic moment. The video opened with Trump’s closing message at the “stop the steal” rally that day, “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave… and we’re going to [try] to give our Republicans — the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help — we’re to try and get them kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country".
When the video was over, there was a profound and painful pause. Raskin noted that Republicans would argue Trump can’t be impeached again because he isn’t president anymore, effectively creating a “January exception” when an outgoing president can no longer be held responsible for his actions. Raskin quipped, “Trump may not know a lot about the framers, but they certainly knew a lot about him. Given the framers’ intense focus on danger to elections and peaceful transfer of power, it’s inconceivable they designed impeachment to be a dead letter in POTUS’s final days in office.”
A profound tear-jerker!
But it was the story Raskin told about bringing his daughter and her husband to the Capitol on the day of the insurrection, just days after the death of his son, that really punctuated the proceedings. It was impossible to listen to Raskin and not think about the enormous, incomprehensible personal tragedy he experienced a few days before the insurrection at the Capitol. When he mentioned “the sound of pounding on the door like a battering ram,” I could almost hear it in my mind. It was, he said, “The most haunting sound I’ve ever heard and I will never forget it.”
Later, Raskin said, he talked to his daughter about watching him try the case before the Senate, but she said, “Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol.” Raskin was not the only one crying at the end of his speech.
When the Democratic impeachment managers finished their case, which also included Joe Neguse memorably quoting Trumpy Republicans’ favorite constitutional lawyer explaining why this impeachment was constitutional, three Republican senators gave quotes to the Hill pool. Roger Wicker of Kansas said, “They sent a better team this time. In terms of advocacy, they’re very eloquent.“ William Cassidy of Louisiana agreed it was a ”Very good opening… the arguments they gave were very good arguments.” Hawley, of Missouri, who raised his fist at the Stop the Steal rally, shrugged: “About what I expected."
Then came Trump’s impeachment lawyers, who were not very good at all, lacking the perspective of a Rudy Giuliani or the elegance of a Judge Box of Wine. It turns out that the guy who refused to prosecute Bill Cosby does not seem to be a very good lawyer, and neither does the guy who met with Jeffrey Epstein right before he killed himself. But that’s who Trump was left with after the rest of his legal team bailed.
In the middle of Bruce Castor’s incredible bomb of an opening, Alan Dershowitz, of all people, was on Newsmax lamenting that, “There is no argument. I have no idea what he is doing, that’s not the kind of argument I would have made, I’ll tell you that.”
But I’m not sure Bruce Castor was worse than the lawyer who followed him, David Schoen, who read a baffling Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem during his closing argument and then started crying
The president’s lawyer just rambled on and on,” lamented Republican Sen. John Cornyn. “I’ve seen a lot of lawyers and a lot of arguments and that was not one of the finest I’ve seen.” Cornyn nonetheless voted along partisan lines, saying the trial was unconstitutional.
But Cassidy unexpectedly voted with five other dissenting Republicans and all of the Democrats in a sign that either this trial will be less partisan than the previous one or Republicans will pay a steeper price if they even more blatantly ignore the facts and the Constitution to again acquit the now ex-president.
At the end of the day, Cassidy told Politico’s Burgess Everett, “If I’m an impartial juror and one side is doing a great job and the other side is doing a terrible job on the issue at hand, as an impartial juror I’m going to vote for the side that did a good job.”
And the Democrats did a good job.