"His directive is Trump first," House impeachment manager and Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island reminded the Senate during the second day of arguments in support of the singular article of impeachment filed against the former president. It's a crucial takeaway that should be heeded by the Senate Republicans who plan to acquit Trump, caring not one bit about the overwhelming evidence of his guilt in inciting an insurrection on January 6. Senate Republicans are putting their loyalty to and fear of the sociopathic man-child from Mar-A-Lago over their patriotism and basic sense of decency. But as Cicilline pointed out, no matter what you do for Trump, no matter how much you debase yourself for Trump, no matter what risks you take for Trump, he will not hesitate to throw you under the bus.
The impeachment trial of Donald Trump has been overshadowed by the fact that the majority of Senate Republicans plan to acquit Trump. So the only real question is whether or not the House Democrats who are arguing the case against Trump can maximally expose the cowardice and complicity of the Republicans who plan to vote to acquit Trump.
They kicked off arguments on Thursday with a compelling presentation by Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, focused on how the insurrectionists believed they were there on Trump's orders. "They actually believed they would face no punishment," DeGette explained, noting that the "mob screamed at officers that they were listening to President Trump" and "believed the commander-in-chief ordered this."
The rioters were so dead certain that they were safe from consequences, DeGette pointed out, that they didn't bother to hide their identities. On the contrary, as most commentators remarked on in the days after the attack, they were so unafraid that huge numbers of them livestreamed, photographed, or otherwise advertised their participation in the insurrection.
The reason these insurrectionists were sure that they'd be free of consequences isn't mysterious. It's because Trump promised them that they'd be safe. In the speech he gave sending the mob to storm the Capitol, Trump literally said, "When you catch somebody in a fraud, you're allowed to go by very different rules."
Even as the House managers argued their case, more evidence emerged proving it.
New court documents from the Department of Justice revealed, CNN reported, that the leader of the Ohio Oath Keepers, Jessica Watkins "believed she was responding to the call from then-President Donald Trump himself." The documents show that Watkins was deeply concerned "about taking action without his backing." As federal prosecutors argued, this was "evident in a November 9, 2020, text in which she stated, 'I am concerned this is an elaborate trap. Unless the POTUS himself activates us, it's not legit.'"
Trump gave the order to "march" on the Capitol and instructed that there is "not going to be cheering so much for some of them." The insurrectionists felt like they were shielded from consequences and free to ransack the building. After all, Trump promised the rules were now "very different."
But they were not safe, as DeGette laid out.
Over 200 people have been arrested and charged so far, some on very serious charges. Some of the rioters, DeGette noted, have since said they were "duped" by Trump, including Jacob Chansley, the "QAnon shaman" who became the face of the riot with his weird buffalo headdress. On Wednesday, a lawyer for another one of the rioters released a statement complaining that his client, like many who heeded Trump's call, "will be spending substantial portions if not the remainder of their lives in prison as a consequence. Meanwhile Donald Trump resumes his life of luxury and privilege."
The evidence does point to the long-standing truth grifters like Trump understand: The best marks are people who think they're part of the conspiracy. That's how Trump gets people. He lures them in by appealing to their ugliest impulses — like the growing Republican desire to unfairly seize power by undermining democracy — and then leaves his co-conspirators, who clearly followed Trump because they liked the idea of a fascist insurrection, holding the bag.
"He lied to his base, saying this was all okay," Rep Ted Lieu of California said during his argument on Thursday.
Democrats finished their case against Trump in a way that was just as impressive as they began it, meticulously laying out the facts while not shying away from the emotions brought on by these terrible events. Lieu was particularly hard-hitting, pointing out that, "When you or I make a mistake and something very bad happens, we would show remorse," but Trump's reaction to January 6 was to brag about how perfect his behavior was, showing how intentional this was from the beginning.
The Senate Republicans who are lining up to shield Trump should really think long and hard about why on Earth they want to protect a man who wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire. A man who always repays loyalty with spit in the face. A man who thanked his vice president, Mike Pence, for years of loyal service by sending a mob to kill him. A man who, as the House managers amply demonstrated with court documents, didn't care who he killed by inciting an insurrection, even if the victims were his most sycophantic supporters in Congress.
But ultimately, the real question isn't whether Trump is guilty. Everyone knows he is. The only question is whether Senate Republicans want to be complicit with an insurrection that directly threatened their own lives. Presumably, they think they're playing 11th-level chess and will get some political advantage out of it. But in the end, they're no better than the morons who stormed the Capitol because Trump told them it was "allowed." And if they believe otherwise, it's because Trump has successfully exploited their own overblown egos against them — as he does to all of his marks.