While the House has been conducting public hearings to show why Donald Trump must be impeached, and House Republicans have been engaged in tactics to undermine their own authority in favor of Trump, Senate Republicans have been planning ahead. Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans have met repeatedly with Trump’s White House attorneys to plan not just Trump’s defense tactics, but how the whole trial can be structured to Trump’s benefit.
Early statements from McConnell seemed to indicate that the entire Senate trial might best be described as “brief”—as in, McConnell might raise his gavel, lower it again, and call it done. But simply taking the impeachment and treating it with the same disdain the Senate Republican leader has demonstrated for over 200 pieces of legislation isn’t giving House Republicans the circus they’ve been demanding, a genuine three-ring conspiracy-theory-athon.
Thrill! as Republicans drag Joe Biden’s son in to ask about him about every business deal he ever made, and many, many he did not. Chill! as Fox News hosts try to explain how the DNC’s nonexistent email server was taken away by equally imaginary Ukrainian hackers. Shiver! as Rudy Giuliani explains that the Constitution requires Trump to solicit foreign interference in every election. Stare in amazement at the parade of people—from Nellie Ohr to Chalupa!—who have not a damn thing to do with the subject at hand.
In Trump’s statements over the last week, both on the air and via Twitter, he seems to be nearly salivating for his chance in the Senate, the place where Republicans rule, which means the place where Trump rules. And what Trump wants is for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, the whistleblower, and everyone who ever expressed less than full-throated praise for his rule to appear on the Senate floor to dodge darts and jump through flaming hoops. It’s still likely that that’s exactly what he’ll get. Because if the impeachment inquiry has revealed anything, it’s the extent to which Republicans are unwilling to stand up to Trump.
But there are some hints, some slight indications that just maybe some Republican senators aren’t happy to see the Big Top come to town—and that some of them might even vote to tell Trump to take his act and hit the road.
On Thursday, Politico checked in with Lindsey Graham to get his response after a Republican House member gleefully repeated the lie that the House had invaded Devin Nunes’ privacy and demanded that the Senate subpoena the phone records of Adam Schiff. But rather than put it on his to-do list, Graham responded, “We’re not going to do that.”
This is Lindsey Graham, so the odds that any indication of decency will outlast the hour are slim to none. One conversation with Trump could have Graham demanding that Schiff also turn over his college transcripts, marriage vows, and grade-school conduct reports.
But there are some other Republicans who are at least wincing over the idea that their chamber is going to get its last drops of dignitas wrung out in an effort to feed the bottomless maw of Trump’s ego. Will those Republicans actually stand up to McConnell or Republican leadership in a way that makes any difference in how the trial goes forward? It’s doubtful.
Still … maybe. In a Friday appearance on Morning Joe, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy was asked if any of his Republican colleagues were thinking about voting in favor of Trump’s removal. Host Willie Geist was clearly shocked when Murphy answered yes. Murphy would not name names, and said that the number of Republicans flirting with voting to send Trump packing was “a small list. On one hand.”
That’s a long way from enough Republicans to actually bring the moving vans to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And it seems unlikely that any Republican, even those up for election in states where purple is trending to blue, will actually show the courage to vote for Trump’s removal.
However, considering the small margin in the Senate, that same handful of votes would be enough to pass rules, or block rules, to make the trial something less than purely The Apprentice: Senate Edition. Even that is a lot to expect from Republicans who have so far displayed absolutely zero willingness to stand in front of Trump’s headlong voyage into dictatorship. But maybe America will get one small nice surprise. Before we all settle down to watch a ceremonial stoning of witnesses who had the gall to demand democracy in a state that has already moved on.