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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 TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills 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 RaskinDeJoy apologizes for mail delays while defending Postal Service changes Officer on Capitol riot: 'Is this America? They beat police officers with Blue Lives Matter flags' Considering impeachment's future MORE (D-Md.) argued that “any president could provoke insurrectionary violence again” if Trump were to be acquitted. His colleague Rep. Joe NeguseJoseph (Joe) NeguseOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Five things to know about Texas's strained electric grid | Biden honeymoon with green groups faces tests | Electric vehicles are poised to aid Biden in climate fight Democratic impeachment manager: Trump trial could have lasted years if witnesses were called Democrats warn of 'whataboutism' ahead of Trump defense 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. 

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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 Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats GOP senators criticized for appearing to pay half-hearted attention to trial Hawley watches trial from visitor's gallery MORE (D-Mo.) on Thursday afternoon tweeted her view that “some of the House managers’ case is getting too repetitive.” David AxelrodDavid AxelrodWhite House denies involvement in Senate decision on trial witnesses The Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats Senators show signs of fatigue on third day of Trump trial 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 BookerCongressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill Democrats want businesses to help get LGBT bill across finish line MORE (N.J.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandCapito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed Lobbying world The Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats MORE (N.Y), stood for periods rather than remain seated throughout.

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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 SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney-Cotton, a Cancun cabbie and the minimum wage debate Biden's picks face peril in 50-50 Senate Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo 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 PenceThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Supreme Court's blow to Trump 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.