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Mitch McConnell’s Missing Conscience 

If voting for the conviction of Donald Trump, insurrectionist, is an act of conscience, what does it mean when McConnell says he'll vote to acquit?
February 13, 2021
Featured Image
Donald Trump gives a pen to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) during a bill signing ceremony for H.R. 748, the CARES Act in the Oval Office of the White House on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Earlier on Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the $2 trillion stimulus bill that lawmakers hope will battle the the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)

Mitch McConnell has been telling his colleagues that their decision on Donald Trump’s conviction would be a “vote of conscience.” And with the announcement that he’d vote to acquit, McConnell confirmed once again that his conscience withered long ago.

For weeks, McConnell has signaled to the media and the donor class that he was angry at Trump and considering his legacy. In the end he issued a statement saying it was a “close call” but that he was going to acquit because impeachment is “primarily a tool of removal, therefore we lack jurisdiction.”

Well, there are a couple big problems with this not-so-conscientious rationalization.

For starters the whole “jurisdictional” question is only relevant because MITCH MCCONNELL SENT THE SENATE ON VACATION WHEN THEY HAD THE CHANCE TO TRY TRUMP WHILE HE WAS STILL IN OFFICE.

I don’t know whether Mitch wanted to drink mai tais on the beach in January or what, but just weeks after Congress was sacked by domestic terrorists shouting for the assassination of the vice president he thought it more important that he and his colleagues get some R&R than to address the threat. The constitutionality issue is only a question because Mitch made it one.

As to the merits of Trump’s actions, one would think the question of whether Donald Trump “incited” the mob would not be one that required much thought from McConnell since he admitted on the floor of the Senate three weeks ago that Trump “provoked” the mob. Maybe he is unaware that provoke and incite are synonyms. If Mitch can’t afford a conscience, he could at least invest in a thesaurus.

Everything in McConnell’s statement is an utter cop-out and he knows it. In the weeks since he declared unequivocally that President Trump was responsible for the deadly riot that invaded the very chamber he believes is so sacred, he assessed the political fallout and determined that convicting Trump and keeping his party’s coalition together was not tenable. So he made a calculated political decision.

In one sense we shouldn’t be surprised by this: Politician makes political decision; news at 11.

But Mitch McConnell and his allies spent weeks telling us this wasn’t about politics.

“This failed attempt to obstruct the Congress, this failed insurrection, only underscores how crucial the task before us is for our republic,” he said. “Our nation was founded precisely so that the free choice of the American people is what shapes our self-government and determines the destiny of our nation.”

McConnell saw clearly that the very foundation of our democratic republic is what was threatened that day and that the threat sprang entirely from the head of one man: Donald Trump.

McConnell did not make the sociopathic, nihilistic, whataboutist arguments of his colleagues like Cruz, Graham, and Rubio. He admitted that he saw the truth. He said that his vote to uphold the Electoral College vote was the most important he had ever cast. On January 13, he signaled to the New York Times that he had already determined that Donald Trump had committed impeachable offenses.

Coop addresses Sen. Mitch McConnell

McConnell’s allies told Axios that defending the institution of the Senate was part of his “legacy.” His top political strategist Josh Holmes tweeted about the insurrection, “if you’re not in a white hot rage over what happened by now you’re not paying attention.” Just last night his adviser Scott Jennings reiterated McConnell’s view of this as a conscience vote and said if it were a secret ballot the vote would be 90 to 10.

So the only way to view McConnell’s deliberations is that he recognizes clearly the fundamental nature of the threat, he saw stopping the insurrection as part of his legacy, he knows that it is Donald Trump who was solely responsible for it, and yet he still cannot bring himself to vote to convict . . . unless the vote is in private.

This is not the first time McConnell has tried to have it both ways with Trump. He silently wore his mask while Trump turned using one into a culture war and untold thousands died unnecessarily. He spent December tut-tutting Trump over the Big Lie in private while his Super PAC spent millions helping two candidates who were holding pro-coup rallies with the president.

Time and time again, Mitch McConnell has tried to position himself as the responsible one with that “legacy” in mind.

But on January 6, when a mob carrying the banner of the president stormed into his office, brutally attacked the Capitol Police, and tried to end our democracy, McConnell came face to face with the reality that this was not a matter where he could have it both ways. He would have to pick a side. He couldn’t be the responsible insurrectionist. He was either an institutionalist or he was a Trumpist.

He sees the choice clearly. He sees it as a matter of conscience. And now he has sided with the man who is responsible for the deadly insurrection.

If you’re not in a white-hot rage over that then you’re not paying attention.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump, communications director for Jeb Bush 2016, and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.