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GOP legislators sold their souls. Don’t expect an epiphany now

Donald Trump owns the party’s voters, and so he owns them, too.

After the insurrection, Senator Mitch McConnell indicated he was open to impeaching the president. But on Tuesday, he voted that the impeachment was unconstitutional because the president was no longer in office.
After the insurrection, Senator Mitch McConnell indicated he was open to impeaching the president. But on Tuesday, he voted that the impeachment was unconstitutional because the president was no longer in office.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It should matter that the Democrats leading the effort to impeach the former president for inciting the deadly insurrection of Jan. 6 have the evidence overwhelmingly on their side.

It should matter that their claims are supported by mountains of primary documentation: Hundreds of hours of gut-wrenching video, including the chilling security camera footage revealed Wednesday; the former president’s own inflammatory words; testimony from the riotous seditionists who said they were following his orders; and the vivid and traumatic memories of the very lawmakers who are both his victims and judges here.

It should matter that the prosecution is presenting its open-and-shut case intelligently and methodically, while the third-string defense attorneys have been meandering, wrong on the law, and determined to distract from what everybody in that chamber knows: That then-president Donald Trump built the big lie of a stolen election, then summoned his devotees to the US Capitol, and encouraged them to storm it.

It should matter, but it doesn’t.

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Because, to all but a handful of Republican senators, the evidence against the former president is irrelevant. Guilty as he plainly is, guilty as they know he is, they will acquit him.

There was a brief window of time, in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the Capitol, when it seemed like some GOP leaders would finally detach themselves from the destructive man for whom they’d debased themselves for four years. A few of them came to think it was now finally appropriate to admit to the horrors Trump had wrought. Even chief Trump lickspittle and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham seemed to be done with him.

“Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey,” a shaken Graham said, hours after the seditionists targeted GOP officials as well as Democratic ones. “But today ... all I can say is, count me out, enough is enough.”

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Other legislators, in lockstep with him before the insurrection, dared to blame Trump after it, to varying degrees. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, unable to turn a blind eye any longer, let it be known he was open to impeaching Trump. On the Senate floor almost two weeks after the siege, he said, “The mob was fed lies. ...They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

Then that window slammed shut, and all but a few Republican legislators fell back into line. They’d sold whatever passes for their souls to Trump years ago and gotten plenty in return, including tax breaks and judges who have helped them solidify their power. They had no intention of buying back those souls by breaking with Trump now. In the contest between power and decency, decency — and democracy — had no chance.

If some of them wavered temporarily from that choice, it was only because they overestimated their own voters, betting that a deadly insurrection would finally turn their base off the man who incited it.

A CBS/YouGov poll conducted last week shows just how wrong they were. About 70 percent of Republican respondents said a vote to convict Trump by GOP senators would be disloyal. More chilling, 33 percent of Republicans said they are willing to join him if Trump forms a new party, with another 37 percent saying they would “maybe” join it.

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Trump still owns the GOP, and so he still owns Republican legislators. Those who have dared to continue to challenge that article of faith after Jan. 6 have been censured by their state parties for voting their consciences — for having consciences. Most who found the courage to criticize the former president in the immediate aftermath of the siege have misplaced it again, including Graham, who has returned to his apple-polishing.

On Wednesday, Democrats did their best to remind their colleagues of the terror of Jan. 6, in hopes of restoring the gumption that made some of them break with Trump in the immediate aftermath of the siege. They played security footage showing just how close the bloodthirsty mob had come to them and their staffers as they rushed to safety. Police audio spoke to the chaos of that day, and to the brutality of the mob Trump encouraged and could not bring himself to condemn, even after they searched for his vice president in hopes of assassinating him. Even after people died.

Will any of it make a difference in the Senate?

McConnell, who is about power above all, behaved as cynically as ever once the initial shock of the siege passed: He joined the soulless ones on Tuesday to vote that the impeachment was unconstitutional because the president was no longer in office. Again on Wednesday, McConnell was putting word out that he still hasn’t made up his mind on whether he’ll vote to convict Trump. But the odds that this king of realpolitik will vote in a way that alienates Trump and his cult are vanishingly small.

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More likely: He and almost all of his Republican colleagues will let Trump skate yet again, no matter the enduring damage to this country’s ability to hold future malefactors in the White House to account, including those who turn to treason in their final days in office.

They will choose power over justice and democracy every time. This is what the Republican Party has become.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.