The Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats

The Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats
© Greg Nash

Democrats closed their case against former President TrumpDonald TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report MORE Thursday by pleading with their Republican colleagues to convict him or risk more political violence in the future.

Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben Raskin House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Democrats claim vindication, GOP cries witch hunt as McGahn finally testifies Trump DOJ seized phone records of New York Times reporters MORE (D-Md.) argued that “any president could provoke insurrectionary violence again” if Trump were to be acquitted. His colleague Rep. Joe NeguseJoseph (Joe) NeguseWyden warns: 'Today's fires are not your grandfather's wildfires' GOP divided over bills targeting tech giants House unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants MORE (D-Colo.) asked, “who’s to say it won’t happen again?” if firm action is not taken now.

The Democratic argument is, in essence, that the Senate needs to redraw the norms of American political life that Trump so repeatedly transgressed. 


There is, however, little chance of Trump becoming the first president in history to be convicted, given that the overwhelming majority of GOP senators are expected to vote to acquit.

Thursday’s arguments, which were more legalistic and theoretical, lacked the emotive power of the previous two days, when Democrats played harrowing video from the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Even some Democratic commentators worried that the prosecution was losing steam as time when on. 

Former Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Jan. 6 commission vote delayed; infrastructure debate lingers into June Missouri Republicans move to block Greitens in key Senate race Democratic Kansas City, Mo., mayor eyes Senate run MORE (D-Mo.) on Thursday afternoon tweeted her view that “some of the House managers’ case is getting too repetitive.” David AxelrodDavid AxelrodPsaki 'likely will stay longer' than year as White House press secretary House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Amash warns of turning lawmakers like Cheney into 'heroes' MORE, a key aide to former President Obama, mused whether “the managers would have been smart to quit and simply sum up with the lack of remorse argument after their incredibly tight powerful case yesterday?”

There were some signs within the chamber itself that senators were less compelled by Thursday’s proceedings. 

At one point at least 18 GOP senators were missing from their seats. Some of their Democratic colleagues, including Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerThis week: Senate set for voting rights fight Congress must act to correct flaws in the First Step Act Democrats introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for government discrimination MORE (N.J.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOur new praetorian guard? Gillibrand: Military must make changes beyond sexual assault cases COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave MORE (N.Y), stood for periods rather than remain seated throughout.


Trump’s lawyers will now have the floor, and it is expected their defense will be concluded within a single day. If that happens — and assuming witnesses are not called — the entire proceedings could conclude by Saturday or Sunday.

Trump’s lead lawyers, Bruce Castor and David Schoen, will be hoping to improve on their opening arguments from earlier in the week. Castor’s performance, in particular, was widely panned and was reported to have left the former president irate as he watched at his Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago.

The Trump team doesn’t need to do very much to gain an acquittal for their client. No more than six Republican senators have so far even agreed that the impeachment trial is constitutional. The chance of the necessary number voting to convict — 17 Republicans, assuming the Democrats all vote to do so — seems vanishingly small.

The president’s team is expected to argue that Trump did not directly spark the riot that enveloped the Capitol. They may also cite what they see as belligerent rhetoric from Democratic politicians in other contexts, in order to assert that Trump is being unfairly singled out.

The core of the pro-Trump case rests on trying to separate the haunting scenes at the Capitol from the issue of his culpability. Schoen called the way in which Democrats presented their argument “an entertainment package” during a Thursday appearance on Fox News.

But even if Trump escapes conviction, the trial has put his behavior — and the disgraceful scenes that played out on Jan. 6 — back in the center of the public stage.

Over the three days when Democrats made their case, new video footage emerged of lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions Senate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push Eliminate family and child poverty: Richard Nixon may help in today's debate MORE (R-Utah), only just avoiding the mob. 

Senators, and the public, were also reminded of the violence inflicted upon Capitol Police officers as they sought to contain a group of rioters that vastly outnumbered them.

And, undergirding it all, was Trump’s penchant for inflammatory rhetoric, stretching all the way back to his 2016 White House candidacy. On Thursday, Democrats replayed clips in which the then-candidate encouraged his supporters to “knock the hell” out of protesters.

The Democrats have sought to avoid falling into the political trap of hyper-partisanship where possible. They foregrounded Republican voices, including former members of Trump’s administration, who blamed the then-president for the violence in the immediate aftermath of the riot. 

They also repeatedly praised former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceIf you care about the US, root for China to score a win in space Pence heckled with calls of 'traitor' at conservative conference The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay MORE and sought to portray the effort to convict Trump as a necessary action to protect American democracy itself.

Lawmakers, Raskin reminded the Senate on Thursday, were made to “literally flee for our lives.”

The outcome of Trump’s trial is basically a foregone conclusion.

But the events that he stands accused of inspiring will not easily fade from memory.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage. Alexander Bolton contributed reporting.