Read Ed’s post from this morning for why it actually *is* a bad idea. A week ago I would have agreed with him. Why would Senate Dems offer a wrist-slap option like censure to Republicans when they’re aiming to convince them to vote to convict Trump after a trial? Censure would be a gift to the GOP, a way for righties to signal some basic disapproval of his actions without having to face the thorny issue of whether to disqualify him from future office.
But after yesterday’s near-total capitulation by Republicans on the BS issue of whether an ex-president can properly be tried, there’s no longer any downside to it. Obviously Republicans are going to vote to acquit Trump no matter what evidence is produced at trial. It looks like there’ll be five votes in the caucus to convict, possibly a few more, but if even so-called “constitutional conservatives” like Mike Lee are too gutless to treat Trump’s offenses with the gravity they deserve then the “go along to get along” bulk of the caucus isn’t going to convict either. They’re too frightened of Trump voters to do it.
…annnnd there are too many easy excuses for them to avoid doing it. One, as I say, is the nonsense jurisdictional excuse that former officials can’t be convicted in an impeachment trial. Another excuse would find Trump not guilty on the merits based on an overly narrow reading of what constitutes incitement. “Yes, fine, technically he spent two months trying to pull off a coup and inciting his fans to support it with endless ‘stop the steal’ propaganda. But he never actually explicitly called for violence on January 6. Not guilty.”
The beauty of censure is that it would eliminate those excuses. It’d be a simple vote on whether Trump’s actions deserve condemnation, irrespective of whether they amount to a crime that warrants disqualification from public office. That’s a hard vote for the GOP because there’s really nowhere to hide on it. There’s no jurisdictional objection. There are no electoral consequences to Trump himself. It’d be the simplest possible MAGA loyalty test in the form of a “was this morally wrong or not?” gut check. And of course everyone in the Senate understands that it was morally wrong. By putting censure on the floor, Dems would be daring Republicans to stand up to their base by admitting that or risk a wave of brutal media coverage and nausea among swing voters if they couldn’t muster the nerve.
Andy McCarthy has come to view impeachment as a clever political play by Democrats to hang Trump around the GOP’s necks for the next two years and beyond. That’s basically right, inasmuch as the process inevitably traps Republicans between the pro-Trump majority among their constituents and the anti-Trump voters who elected Biden in November. A censure vote would deepen the party’s political problems by pitting R’s who support censure on moral grounds against hardcore MAGA cultists who’d resent even a token gesture to reprimand the former president for what he did. McCarthy:
[A]s the Left perceptively sees it, the impeachment trial is already causing deep rifts in Republican and conservative circles. Democrats do not delude themselves into believing Trump will be convicted at the Senate trial and disqualified from future office. To the contrary, they want him to remain a force, wreaking havoc on the 2022 GOP midterm-election effort and the 2024 presidential campaign — splitting the party; forcing the nomination of Trump-populists with narrow appeal who cannot win general elections; and either getting himself nominated or mounting an independent presidential run that will geometrically increase the chance that Democrats hold on to the White House.
Democrats do not want to disqualify Trump. They want to keep him radioactive. They want to remind the country in lurid detail of the former president’s role in the lethal January 6 rioting — the demagogic speech, the failure to take action while the seat of government was under siege. And then they want to force a vote — conviction or acquittal — that will be framed as every GOP senator’s choice to stand with Trump or against him.
He’s lost the popular vote twice and even more than 20 percent of Republicans say that he should no longer play a role within the GOP. Why wouldn’t Dems want to goad the GOP into an even more intractable pro-Trump stance, especially as Americans increasingly want to see him out of politics? In fact, check this out:
Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters are closely split between the Republican Party and the notional Patriot Party that Trump recently floated. A third (33%) said they are more interested in being a member of the Republican Party, and 30% said they would be more interested in being a member of the Patriot Party. A small share (11%) expressed interest in neither party.
The party is evenly split when asked to choose between sticking with the GOP or riding off and joining a Trump party. That’s fertile ground for a really nasty divorce on the subject of Trump, and censure makes that divorce more likely. No matter what Republicans do, they’re boned. If a bunch of GOPers who voted no on convicting him decide to vote yes on censure, MAGA will be furious at them for “disloyalty.” If instead the only Republicans who vote yes on censure are those who voted to convict, Dems have a sweet talking point about how McConnell’s caucus has now endorsed Trump’s behavior between Election Day and January 6. “They won’t. even. say. he. was. wrong,” Schumer will intone. And he’ll be right. They’ll have proven that they’re unwilling to cast even a meaningless vote of disapproval for fear of offending the Trump cult.
The one wrinkle here is when the censure vote should happen, if in fact it ends up happening. This is a horrible idea by Tim Kaine:
IMPEACHMENT: @timkaine tells reporters trial is not a good use of time right now since know Trump won't be convicted, suggests his censure resolution passing as way to avoid going forward with the Trump trial.
— Erik Wasson (@elwasson) January 27, 2021
Under no circumstances should censure happen in lieu of a trial. Not only would Dems be forfeiting their chance at a public showcase for the evidence of incitement, they’d be tacitly endorsing the bad-faith belief that the Senate lacks jurisdiction to try a former official when it doesn’t. They have to hold the trial even if the outcome is predetermined, even if it messes with Biden’s agenda for a few weeks. (Which is one reason why Kaine wants to ditch it, I assume.) They could hold the censure vote before they hold the trial, but I think that would backfire to some degree in case there are a few “gettable” Republican votes to convict like Rob Portman or maybe even Mitch McConnell. If you give them a vehicle up front to express disapproval of Trump with no consequences to the former president, they’ll take that opportunity and then use it to justify voting to acquit at trial later. “I already said he was bad! Why do I have to convict him too?!”
They should hold the trial as scheduled, uncertain of whether censure will be brought to the floor afterward, and then Schumer can force a vote on censure after acquittal. Ed pointed out a problem with that too: “Why would Senate Republicans vote to acquit and then turn around and censure? The GOP caucus would insist that Democrats chose the trial as the Senate’s action and that the matter is now closed.” True, they would seize on that excuse (or any other they could find) as a “neutral” pretext for opposing censure too. But a no vote at trial and a yes vote on censure aren’t mutually contradictory: Again, Senate Republicans have the jurisdictional excuse and the “it wasn’t technically a high crime” excuse to justify acquittal — but not moral condemnation. And from Schumer’s standpoint, it doesn’t matter why Republicans end up voting no on censure. They can claim any excuse they like; at the end of the day, the takeaway will be that Republicans wouldn’t even scold Trump for spending two months trying to engineer a g-ddamned coup that ended up with a cop being murdered at the Capitol.
If they’re unwilling to go nuclear on Trump by voting to convict at trial, test them to see if they’re willing to shoot a spitball at him at least. It’s as simple as that.