The second impeachment of Donald Trump ended the same as the first; with Republican senators claiming Trump was guilty, but once again finding an excuse not to convict him. While the outcome of the trial was really never in doubt, it is still appalling that, despite overwhelming evidence, so few Republicans joined in the vote to convict.
Instead, Republicans have lost the soul of their party to the very individuals who took part in the insurrection.
Democrats presented a clear case for conviction, even earning praise from Trump’s own attorney. They carefully laid out, through video after video, the actions that Trump took before and during the assault on the Capitol while Trump’s attorney was largely mocked for his rambling, sometimes incoherent opening statement. Apparently he was well aware that, no matter his level of incompetence, he knew there was no way enough Republican senators would vote for conviction.
This didn’t happen overnight. The devolution of the Republican Party has been years in the making. The anger and secrecy of the Nixon administration laid the seeds for the outright open disregard of Constitutional norms of Trump’s years in office, there has been a steady erosion of the ideals that once represented the GOP.
The Nixon Years
While he surely isn’t the first, Richard Nixon, like Trump, called the press the enemy. In the era before Twitter, to get his message out, Nixon was forced to face the press. Nixon and members of his administration hated the press so much that some of his advisors even fantasized about how they would kill certain media reporters who gave Nixon the unwelcome moniker “Tricky Dick”.
Given his disdain for the media, it’s ironic that it was the work of two intrepid reporters from the Washington Post that brought the administration to its knees by exposing the Watergate scandal. The team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, along with the mysterious “Deep Throat”, who was the true administration insider Q Anon claims to be, painstakingly investigated Nixon’s efforts to sabotage his Democratic opponents in order to win re-election.
Nixon also sought to use elements of the Justice Department to spy on his perceived enemies under the guise of “national security” as protest against the war in Vietnam grew. One infamous protest led to the deaths of four college students as the National Guard fired on a group of protesters.
Nixon ran on the platform of being a “law and order” candidate. Claiming Democrats were “soft on crime”, Nixon used this to catapult himself into the presidency. Yet he has gone down in history as one of the most corrupt individuals to occupy the Oval Office.
In seeking to appeal to elements of the far right, Nixon embraced the term ‘the silent majority” to make those who, up until that time, felt marginalized by the political mainstream. This gave rise to groups whose racist and ultra-religious views were made stronger by Nixon’s relationship with televangelist Billy Graham.
The Reagan Era
Like Nixon, Ronald Reagan portrayed himself as the “law and order” candidate. Reagan used the same approach he did when he ran for governor of California, when he promised to “send the welfare bums back to work”. When in office, Reagan capitalized on the use of crack cocaine as a means of targeting minorities, flooding the media with anti-drug messages that primarily depicted Black drug dealers as the main source of crime in America.
Unlike Nixon, Reagan embraced the media. He used this relationship to cultivate a pathway to gaining acceptance of even his most controversial policies. This earned him the nickname ‘The Great Communicator”.
Because of his cozy relationship with the media, Reagan was able to survive his administration’s most damning scandals, the Iran Contra Affair, where the administration secretly traded arms to Nicaraguan rebels in exchange for American hostages held by Iranian terrorists in war-torn Lebanon. Despite an appointment of a Special Prosecutor and Congressional hearings, Reagan emerged relatively unscathed.
Reagan found his base of support in a group that called itself “The New Right”. They were comprised of Evangelicals, who sought to overturn Roe v. Wade, and conservative business leaders who sought to repeal what they saw as overly cumbersome environmental regulations.
Reagan’s most lasting mark on American history was his response to a period of stagflation. Known as “Reaganomics”, this pro-business approach to the economy cut taxes and gave rise to what was called “the trickle down theory” where corporations and wealthy individuals who received these tax breaks would eventually pass these profits on to the struggling middle class. Instead, they pocketed these profits and increased the wealth gap.
The Tea Party Movement
The Tea Party Movement sprang from conservative Republicans who sought to limit government spending, oppose what it considered excessive taxation and limit government intervention in the private sector. It was comprised of 40 percent Evangelicals who wanted to use this platform of what they considered ultra-patriotism to limit government funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood. It’s anti-government message resonated with the Far Right, particularly those paramilitary groups who sought to overthrow the government and saw then President Obama as a Muslim interloper while espousing the “birther” issue which claimed President Obama wasn’t an American citizen, and therefore not eligible to be president.
While it claims to be a grassroots movement, the true origins of the Tea Party lie with Conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch, whose aim was to challenge the Obama administration and support pro- business policies that would lead to less government regulations and greater tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations.
Those on the far right saw the Tea Party as a way to delegitimize President Obama’s presidency as well as a means to spread their anti-immigrant propaganda. These ideas led to the rise of far right media outlets like Breitbart, Infowars and Newsmax.
The Freedom Caucus
When the Tea Party movement failed to achieve its aims, namely removing President Obama from office, it faded away, like so many political groups. What filled the void of Conservative outrage was the Freedom Caucus. Comprised of Republican members of the House of Representatives, and led by Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), the Freedom Caucus is fervidly pro-Trump and will go to any length to demonstrate their fealty while shouting down anyone who disagrees with them, even members of Trump’s own administration.
During the impeachment hearings, they emerged as Trump’s main defenders, challenging the motivation behind his first impeachment and the Constitutionality of his second impeachment. They even tried to shift the blame for the insurrection on members of Antifa, who somehow infiltrated the mob and incited the violence that followed.
They blame President Biden for paring back certain freedoms that were actually enacted by the Trump administration and claim that QAnon is a fabrication aimed at discrediting the Conservative movement, even as members of QAnon wander the halls of Congress.
Trumpism, Impeachment and the Future of the Republican Party
With Trump’s second impeachment trial once again resulting in acquittal, Trump and his supporters once again feel emboldened. At the end of the first impeachment trial, Sen. Susan Collins (R-MA) defended her vote for acquittal by claiming Trump had learned his lesson and would be far more cautious. Instead, he launched on a campaign of retribution, firing or forcing the resignations of those who dared to testify against him.
Following his second acquittal, some declared Trumpism was dead, yet Trump, lacking his Twitter megaphone, issued a statement slamming the process and declaring his movement has “only just begun”. Sen. Lindsey Graham who said, following the January 6th insurrection, that it was “a hell of a journey” while acknowledging that Trump was probably finished in politics, now claims the Trump movement is alive and well, while also threatening to impeach Vice President Kamala Harris should Republicans get control of the House of Representatives following the 2022 midterm elections.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party, which refused to support either impeachment, is threatening to implode. Republicans, horrified by the events of January 6th, are leaving the party by the thousands, while Trump loyalists are threatening to form their own “Party of Trump” leaving those Republicans who oppose Trump left with trying to form some sort of coalition to keep the GOP intact.
What’s left of what was once the Republican Party is populated by conspiracy theorists and right wing nut jobs who were the primary groups behind the January 6th insurrection. And they are waiting for March 4th, when they believe Trump will return to Washington to claim his “rightful” place as the president, once again.
One thing is certain. The efforts by Russia to interfere with the 2016 presidential elections have succeeded beyond Vladimir Putin’s wildest dreams.
What began as an effort to discredit then Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has resulted in the greatest threat to Democracy since the Civil War. Trump’s refusal to accept his 2020 election defeat resulted in the first time in over 200 years that there has not been a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next.
It may well have destroyed America forever. And for that, Putin is certainly gleeful.