After his acquittal by the Senate, Donald Trump called the proceeding “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country.” Trump is wrong. The second impeachment was no witch hunt.
In January 2020, at the time of the first impeachment trial, Trump was riding high. The Democrats wanted to knock him back a peg. In January 2021, the Democrats would have been content to see Trump stumble out of town, a defeated man.
They wouldn’t have impeached him had not his inflammatory, and at times ludicrous rhetoric, been followed by a physical attack on Congress. But Trump’s insistence that his “landslide” victory had been stolen and his calls for action by supporters led to an attack, or so Democratic Senators and some Republican colleagues reasonably believed.
Trump had a right to say whatever he wanted to about the election, his vice president, and any other subject, as long as he didn’t advocate or encourage rioting or assault. Did Trump cross that line?
Arguably not. Trump walked up to the line, probably put a toe over it, and then pulled it back.
This has been Trump’s method since he entered the presidential sweepstakes in 2015. Think back to his famous statement about Mexican immigrants. After attacking their character in vicious terms, he added “and some, I assume, are good people.”
This is vintage Trump. Transgressive language for his base, followed by a grudging word or two that can be cited in his defense.
So it was in the buildup to the rioting at the Capitol. Trump riled up his supporters with language that could easily be understood as calling for an insurrection, but in the end threw in a few references to “peacefulness” that establish a plausible defense to the charge of inciting one.
Trump’s behavior during the rioting itself seemed to follow the same pattern. Although the record on this is underdeveloped, it appears that when the rioting began, he was still tweeting inflammatory content (“USA demands the truth”). A little later, though, he tweeted:
Please support our Capitol Police and Law enforcement. They are truly on the side of our country. Stay peaceful!
Looking at the record as a whole, reasonable people can disagree about whether Trump’s behavior crossed the line for purposes of impeaching a president. Reasonable people can also disagree about whether a former president can be tried by the Senate. (In my view, a former president can be tried, but Trump stopped just short of the impeachable offense line.)
But it’s unreasonable to view this impeachment as a “witch hunt” (and Trump should freshen up his language). Senators like Bill Cassidy and Pat Toomey aren’t witch hunters. Neither is Mitch McConnell, who made it pretty clear that, although he doesn’t think Trump could be tried by the Senate , he believes the former president committed a serious offense.
Some defeated politicians use the time after losing an election to think about what they could have done differently in their campaign and, in the case of incumbents, while in office. Others lack the self-awareness to perform such an analysis.
Trump not only lacks that self-awareness, he still thinks he won a landslide victory. Pathetic.