Good Friday Morning, except to the year 2021, a year that’s making me regret wishing everyone a Happy New Year so far. Has anyone tried calling customer service to see if we can get a refund? I’m scared if we call that number, Comcast will pick up. I’m also certain someone forgot to eat their black-eyed peas.
I’ve quote it before, but these inflection points in American politics, where something extreme happens, always returns me to the first lines of William B. Yeats poem, The Second Coming.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I’ll get into what happened, what we know, and where things could head after this. Links to follow. One quick note, as I was going to press, the US Capitol Police confirmed and reported that one of the police officers at the event died from injuries sustained during the attacks. That raises the death toll to five.
Where you can find me this week
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Taxation is not theft, especially in a pandemic – The Conservative Institute.
COVID-19 relief checks could pave way for universal basic income – The Conservative Institute.
The reset of American politics.
Where to even start? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a non-election political event dramatically change the Republican or Democratic Party’s direction more quickly than the storming of the US Capitol. You can point to events changing things like wars, recessions, and such. This situation is different because a politician caused it. The January 6 march on DC will have radioactive impacts on American politics for some time.
At this time, it ended with five people dead, many injured, including more than 50 injured police officers, and 13 arrests. It was, unequivocally, a disgrace and embarrassment for the nation. The DC DOJ office says they’ve prepared 55 total cases from the events, and more will likely get added. It’s somewhat ironic that a group of people carrying “#ThinBlueLine” paraphernalia clashed that hard with the police. And based on the video (*warning: graphic*) of the woman fatally shot, I’m inclined to side with police in their actions. I’m open to interpretations that police overreacted, but trying to break through a barricaded door to where elected officials and staff were located leaves me inclined towards them being overprotective.
We were also incredibly fortunate. If you watch a video of people ransacking the Capitol building, it’s clear police had grounds to shoot even more people. We could have had more people dead. Also, “DC Police said two pipe bombs and a cooler of Molotov cocktails were found near the US Capitol Building … The pipe bombs were found outside of the local DNC and RNC offices, respectively. The pipe bombs were found inside a car, where a long gun was also discovered.”
January 6, 2021, could have been much worse.
Before we go any further, let’s establish what we know is true/false about what happened. The event centered around a speech President Trump was giving on the National Mall. There were two groups, those centering around his speech, and then the group that broke off from there and went to the US Capitol building.
If you want to read about what it was like to be there:
- Andrew Egger and Audrey Fahlberg of the Dispatch reported from the National Mall and the move from the Capitol. Their piece is titled: The Storming of the Capitol: Trump supporters pushed past barriers and police officers to disrupt Congress’ counting of the Electoral College votes.
- John McCormack describes events inside the building for National Review for a piece: What It Was Like Inside the Capitol When the Mob Came: I thought I would witness a farce but not an immediate tragedy on January 6. It was sad to witness both.
- National Review compiled a slideshow of pictures from the day.
The next most common thing people of the right are asserting that Antifa extremists caused the chaos. That’s untrue. What’s also untrue is that there was any chance Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, or Josh Hawley had at changing anything the election results. Here are some fact checks on that front:
- Fact Checking Donald Trump’s Speech From the ‘Save America March’ – The president repeated a series of false claims that have been debunked previously. – The Dispatch
- Does Mike Pence Have the Power to Reject Slates of Electors? No. – The Dispatch
- Were Antifa Supporters Among Those Who Overtook the Capitol Building? Tweets from Lin Wood are misleading. – The Dispatch
- Did a Facial Recognition Software Company Identify Antifa Members at the Capitol? No. – The Dispatch
- Washington Times retracts article claiming facial recognition company identified some Capitol rioters as antifa – The Hill
- Did CNN Report That Antifa ‘Claimed Responsibility’ for Storming Capitol Hill? Nope. – The Dispatch
And I’d add to the Antifa talking point, it doesn’t matter if a few of them were there as Dan McLaughlin argues in National Review:
At the individual level, of course, it is always possible — even likely if it’s a large enough crowd — that a violent crowd includes some number of people who are looking to discredit the cause being protested for. It is also true, in nearly every case, that any violent crowd is only a subset of a larger, peaceful crowd protesting for the same thing. Neither of these facts matters — not Wednesday, not in the case of this spring and summer’s riots, and not in other cases of mob violence. The obvious, logical inference, which experience regularly bears out, is that the bulk of any violent mob are who they say they are, which in this case means Trump loyalists.
You know what you do when there are malcontents in your group? You don’t follow them or you stop them.
So those are some of the basic facts of what happened. I start there because the only way to form a cohesive opinion after that is to agree upon what happened.
The conclusion is pretty easy with the facts stated above: what happened at the Capitol was wrong. It’s so wrong that the question about Trump’s involvement shifts from it just being harmful to what should we do about his behavior and involvement? For some Republican White House staffers, the answer is to resign. Among those resignations is Elaine Chao, Mitch McConnell’s wife, and Betsy DeVoss, both cabinet-level positions.
After that, the political environment has shifted to kicking Trump out of office. Democrats are phrasing it as “Trump should be removed either by the 25th Amendment or via Impeachment.” The 25th Amendment suggestion is a joke. People asking for that are asking for Trump’s removal without Congress voting on it. It’s the height of political cowardice. If you believe any of that, then you should want Congress to step up, as the first branch of government, provide leadership, and vote on our next direction. Andy McCarthy wrote a definitive takedown of the 25th Amendment at National Review. I recommend it if you want to read further.
The first person to suggest impeachment, that I noticed, was on the right. John Podhoretz at Commentary Magazine on January 6, 2020, wrote a quick blog item that said:
I watched as the president spoke at his rally earlier today and said he would go with the crowd to the Capitol to make sure their feelings were known. I heard the president threaten Mike Pence with his unhappiness should Pence refuse to prevent the certification of the electors—just after Pence had released a statement saying he had no authority to do any such thing.
This rally itself happened because Trump called for it. The crowds gathered because Trump called for them. They moved to the Capitol down the Mall because Trump said they should. The breach of the Capitol is Trump’s fault. Some in the crowd have stormed the Congress.
Donald Trump unleashed a mob on Capitol Hill. What he has done is without precedent in American history. Even if he had seven minutes left in his presidency, he should not be permitted to spend another second as the President. Nancy Pelosi should call an emergency session of the House tonight and impeach the president, and Mitch McConnell should convene the Senate tomorrow and call a vote to remove Trump from the presidency.
The argument’s essence is straightforward: Trump continuing the falsehood that the election was stolen undermines American democracy. His rally on the National Mall where he falsely accused Mike Pence of being a traitor, attacked Republicans, and more, led directly to his supporters storming the US Capitol where people died, were injured, and caused property damage. These actions undermined the very core of the American electoral system.
I agree with all those points. What Trump did, said, invoked, or however you want to put it is impeachable. And if I were a Democrat, I’d bring articles immediately, pass them in the House, and put it to Republican Senators on how far their Trump support extends. That’s just smart politics. It’s like running the ball with Derrick Henry against the worst-ranked run defense in the league; you’d be dumb not to.
Last spring, I wrote one of the early definitive pieces on the Democrat’s efforts to impeach Trump, Autopsy of an Impeachment. The critical passage I’d highlight from that piece:
“When Hamilton writes about what impeachment is trying to fix, he points to an ‘abuse or violation of some public trust.’ That provides us with a pretty clear idea of what impeachment should provide in the end. It’s a political tool meant to restore public trust in the executive branch. Impeachment and removal should restore public confidence, and if it doesn’t, or public trust worsens, then the case for impeachment is weakened.”
What Trump did is impeachable. That’s not the question, nor is it a high bar to clear. The problem is: Would impeaching Trump restore public trust in the executive branch or American political system? I don’t have an answer to that. Trump only has two weeks left in his term, and he’s going to leave office more disgraced than any President since Nixon. The last 48-72 hours have completely nuked his reputation and political capital.
Is it better to let him ride out the rest of the term? Or should Congress reassert itself and drive home the principle that undermining the country’s election has consequences? I’m naturally inclined towards setting examples in these situations. Democrats were openly setting up the results of 2020 to get rejected on their side. Impeaching Trump now could have benefits later on in building political momentum to hold Democrats to account.
On the other hand, instead of harming Trump, impeachment could make him a martyr. Letting him slide off into the sunset of political ignominy would let the mess he’s created for himself be the punishment. I can get talked into either option here. Complicating matters is that Trump issued a video saying he’d provide an orderly transition to Biden. That could soften things, on the Senate side at least, for Republicans to say, “let’s just avoid an impeachment and move on to inauguration.”
On the other hand, ending the Trump-era right here, and right now, preventing him from ever running again would be in the interests of Senate Republicans with 2024 hopes. Or Senate institutionalists who are tired of things like the attacks and losses in places like Georgia. Remember, an impeached President cannot legally run again.
A third option is the one proposed by the Wall Street Journal editorial board, resignation:
If Mr. Trump wants to avoid a second impeachment, his best path would be to take personal responsibility and resign. This would be the cleanest solution since it would immediately turn presidential duties over to Mr. Pence. And it would give Mr. Trump agency, a la Richard Nixon, over his own fate.
This might also stem the flood of White House and Cabinet resignations that are understandable as acts of conscience but could leave the government dangerously unmanned. Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser, in particular should stay at his post.
We know an act of grace by Mr. Trump isn’t likely. In any case this week has probably finished him as a serious political figure. He has cost Republicans the House, the White House, and now the Senate. Worse, he has betrayed his loyal supporters by lying to them about the election and the ability of Congress and Mr. Pence to overturn it. He has refused to accept the basic bargain of democracy, which is to accept the result, win or lose.
It is best for everyone, himself included, if he goes away quietly.
I don’t have a feel for how Congress will handle this. I expect Democrats to force the issue. If it comes to that, it won’t shock me if Republicans try and perform this third option to avoid the spectacle of a successful impeachment. That would have consequences too.
That brings me to my last point. Politics have dramatically shifted for Republicans. The impacts of this event will have a radioactive afterglow for a while. If Trump resigns or gets impeached, it will linger for far longer, and I’d expect it to hit the 2022 midterm elections.
Here’s why. Initially, I thought coming out of the election that Trump had a clear path towards winning re-election in 2024. Biden would flounder with a tight Congress. Republicans could win control of both chambers in 2022 and set up 2024 as the chance to retake everything. Biden would have to run with a record instead of being the figment of people’s imaginations.
But that’s gone now. That’s not happening. Everything I wrote pre-election about the Democratic Party still holds, for the most part. Biden has the unenviable task of holding together a coalition of Democrats that hate each other after 2020. Republicans, though, as Karl Rove writes in WSJ, are in disarray.
For starters, the results of Trump’s loss could depress his base. If his voters stop voting, Republicans will have to assemble a new coalition for 2022 and 2024. If they lack that in 2022, it could make things harder to win across the board. Convincing people the election wasn’t stolen requires hard work. People have to believe in the system. Restoring trust is imperative.
There’s also been a dramatic shuffling of political fortunes. Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley hitched their wagons to Trump, and they’ve lost a lot of political capital. They share the blame with Trump for choosing to undermine the results of the election. They also have the political horse-race instincts of a cross-eyed horse trying to change lanes. The three Republicans with the strongest reputations post-Trump are (in this order): Senator Tom Cotton (AR), Governor Ron DeSantis (FL), and Gov. Kristi Noem (SD). Cruz and Hawley are finished.
Cotton correctly got Trump to commit to the first China travel ban. He was hyper-focused on the virus before anyone else. He’s a hawk on China, and we’re going to have to deal with that country more in the coming years. And he’s handled this post-election period as close to flawless a politician can get. DeSantis governed Florida and the virus pretty competently compared to any larger state. The attacks the press have made on him haven’t made sense, especially when compared to Cuomo and Newsom’s failures.
Could Trump wage a dramatic comeback, barring he doesn’t resign or gets impeached? Sure. It’s possible. But he’s going to have the stench of a loser on him that was willing to destroy the party and lose down-ballot races in Georgia on a hare-brained theory the election was rigged. That’s not going to be a winning strategy moving forward.
Events are going to determine a lot of things moving forward. There’s a lot of things that will occur between now and 2022 and 2024. Those events will dictate a lot of what will happen.
Links of the week
Trump’s Rebellion Against Reality: What the riot in the Capitol reveals. – Yuval Levin, The Dispatch
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
CNN Gravely Reports On ‘First Violent Protest In Recent Memory’ – The Babylon Bee
Mostly Peaceful Protestors Breach US Capitol – The Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!