The more I read about the trial, the more it sounds like we’re going to spend much of the time watching two different movies. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. As Ed noted earlier, Democrats aren’t planning to call witnesses, which is malpractice from the perspective of the trial serving as a mechanism for accountability. “They could call witnesses to establish the fact that he was delighted by what was happening – people fighting for him, and the vote delayed – but that’s unlikely to happen,” the Times’s Maggie Haberman noted this morning about Trump’s behavior after the attack had begun. “One fact to remember – both he and Giuliani called senators as the vote was delayed.”
Instead of witnesses, they’re going to put on a show. In fact, both sides are. The prosecution tipped the NYT to its strategy:
This time, a new group of nine Democratic managers need reach back only a year to study the lessons of Mr. Schiff’s prosecution: Don’t antagonize Republicans, use lots and lots of video and, above all, make succinct arguments to avoid lulling the jury of lawmakers into boredom or distraction…
To assemble the presentation, Mr. Raskin’s team has turned to the same outside firm that helped put together Mr. Schiff’s multimedia display. But Mr. Raskin is working with vastly richer material to tell a monthslong story of how he and his colleagues believe Mr. Trump seeded, gathered and provoked a mob to try to overturn his defeat.
There are clips and tweets of Mr. Trump from last summer, warning he would only lose if the election was “rigged” against him; clips and tweets of him claiming victory after his loss; and clips and tweets of state officials coming to the White House as he sought to “stop the steal.” There is audio of a call in which Mr. Trump pressured Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” the votes needed to reverse Mr. Biden’s victory there; as well as presidential tweets and accounts by sympathetic lawmakers who say that once those efforts failed, Mr. Trump decisively turned his attention to the Jan. 6 meeting of Congress for one last stand.
Trump’s lawyer told Laura Ingraham on Friday, though, that they’re going to fight fire with fire:
“Will you then respond with Maxine Waters, a number of other Democrat officials not speaking out about the Antifa and other extremist rallies over the last summer?” Ingraham asked.
“I think you can count on that,” Castor said. “If my eyes look a little red to the viewers, it’s because I’ve been looking at a lot of video.”
Earlier in the segment with Ingraham, Castor alleged “there’s a lot of tape of cities burning and courthouses being attacked and federal agents being assaulted by rioters in the streets, cheered on by Democrats throughout the country,” seemingly referring to ongoing unrest in Portland, Ore.
Maybe that’s how Castor convinced Trump not to insist upon a “rigged election” defense at the trial. That would have been uncomfortable for Senate Republicans, who don’t want to be seen as complicit in the “stop the steal” propaganda (even though some of them are). It’ll be more palatable to them if instead Team Trump tries to tu-quoque Democrats for inflammatory things they’ve said in the past, and that’s probably acceptable to Trump too. Going on offense by both-sides-ing the question of incitement will scratch his itch to “fight” without resorting to nonsense about Dominion voting machines or whatever.
One thing I wonder, though, is whether Team Trump coming after House Dems like Waters will tempt the prosecution to retaliate against Senate Republicans. The same Times piece quoted above notes at the end that “managers [are] wary of saying anything that might implicate Republican lawmakers who echoed or entertained the president’s baseless claims of election fraud. To have any chance of making an effective case, the managers believe, they must make clear it is Mr. Trump who is on trial, not his party.” Acquittal is a foregone conclusion, so they’re not afraid of alienating the jury by attacking GOPers like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley for their roles on January 6. What they’re afraid of, I think, is that by pointing fingers at a bunch of Republicans besides Trump, the process will look to voters even more partisan than it already is. If it’s Dems against Trump then Trump’s actions are the focus; if it’s Dems against Trump, Cruz, and Hawley then it’s Team Blue versus Team Red. Everyone to their partisan corners.
The only concrete victory Democrats might plausibly hope to have from the trial is rendering Trump toxic to enough Americans that he’s unviable in 2024. I floated that possibility yesterday on Twitter and someone responded that the public polling on Impeachment 2.0 is similar to what the polling was for Impeachment 1.0 and Trump weathered the latter well enough to come within 80,000 votes or whatever of winning the election in November. It’s true that the polling this time isn’t wildly different from what it was last time but it is a bit different and that difference could be decisive in 2024. From Gallup:
FiveThirtyEight’s average currently finds support for impeaching Trump at 52 percent, four points higher than for Impeachment 1.0 — and on the question of whether he should be barred from running from office again, the number rises to 55 percent. (An ABC/Ipsos poll released yesterday found that share to be 56 percent.) Harry Enten compared those numbers to Trump’s share of the vote in November and came away concluding that a few million Trump voters now likely support disqualifying him from a future candidacy:
Every single poll over the last month that I could find that meets CNN standards for reporting has shown that at least 56% of Americans want him to be barred from holding or seeking (depending on the question) federal office again.
That is, to put it mildly, a stunning percentage. At no point last year in the polling between Trump and now-President Joe Biden did Biden ever earn anywhere close to 56% in the national average…
Indeed, while about 80% of Republicans (depending on the polling) don’t want Trump being kept from running for or holding federal office, this still indicates a clear drop in support from last year. Trump won more than 90% of self-identified Republicans in last fall’s election.
Dems won’t get within a country mile of convicting him despite what the polling says, but that’s not the point. The point is that the GOP would have good reason to fear that Trump would be more of a liability than an asset on the ticket a third time after what happened at the Capitol. The effort behind the scenes to persuade him not to run again will be intense, assuming it hasn’t already begun.
Exit question: How much will House Dems make use of the court documents filed by people who’ve been charged in the Capitol riot? There’s no way to find out what Trump intended on the morning of January 6 but participants in the attack have been only too happy in their filings to say that they were inspired by his months of rhetoric about the election supposedly having been stolen. Another way to ask this exit question is, how broad will the Dems’ concept of “incitement” be? If it focuses heavily on Trump’s words at the rally on the 6th, their case could come off weak. If they focus on the months of dogged daily propaganda about cheating, it looks much stronger.
Update: A friend points out that Dems will object to any tu-quoque video from the defense and they’ll have a sympathetic “judge” in Pat Leahy, so maybe Castor’s evidence won’t even be admitted. But of course, whatever he puts together will be played endlessly in righty media to counterprogram Raskin’s evidence against Trump, so not much will be lost by having the evidence excluded. Again, this is a pageant more so than a “trial” and the pageant extends beyond the Senate chamber.