The Anti-Republican Party
All of Donald Trump's defense lawyers for his impeachment trial just quit on him with about a week left before the trial begins.
Why? Because they won't lie for him: "Trump wanted the attorneys to argue there was mass election fraud and that the election was stolen from him rather than focus on the legality of convicting a president after he's left office."
This indicates that Trump's defense against the charge that he incited an insurrection is to keep doing it.
Trump's lawyers did not quit because they thought they were being called upon to make a thin, legally dubious, or merely disreputable argument. After all, that's kind of priced into the deal when you agree to represent Trump. They quit when they realized they were going to have to assume the personal and professional liability of telling proven lies to Congress.
Every aspect of Trump's "stolen election" fantasy has already been tested in the courts and has failed for lack of substantial evidence. Claims of election fraud were either dropped from legal briefs as it came time to file them, or the claims were reduced down to levels so small that they obviously had no impact on the outcome of the election. The upshot was summed up by Trump sycophant Lou Dobbs, who complained, "Eight weeks from the election and we still don't have verifiable, tangible support for the crimes that everyone knows were committed…. We have had a devil of a time finding actual proof." But how can "everyone know" the election was stolen if there is no actual proof? That's the sort of thing you can shout on a cable news show, but most lawyers blanche at the notion of saying that to a judge, and it seems Trump's lawyers weren't excited to say it to the Senate.
So Trump's lawyers, whoever he finds now, will have to dredge all of these claims up once more knowing full well that they are false. Who's going to take that kind of blow to their professional reputation? Maybe Rudy will be up to the job.
But that will make the Senate trial just a further chapter in the crime of which Trump is accused—a continuing act of incitement to insurrection.
Donald Trump's incitement of insurrection was not a single appearance before the crowd that stormed the Capitol on January 6. It was a long campaign of deceit intended to subvert the election and prepare his followers for violent and even armed rebellion against the results of November's election. The New York Times has a rundown of all the actions he took, just between the election and the inauguration, to stoke the lies, despite repeated warnings from his staff and political allies, and to mobilize his supporters to come out into the streets.
This is inherently a campaign of incitement. In the American system, given our founding ideals, to arbitrarily assert that the election results are fraudulent is the equivalent of 'fighting words"—a claim that will predictably rouse people too violent action. If the election really was stolen, then of course rebellion is the natural and legitimate response.
But to call this election stolen, based on a complete absence of evidence, would mean that one could make the same claim about any election. It would meant that elections as such no longer determine anything, that the results will be determined instead by angry mobs.
As Mitch McConnel eloquently put it, "If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We would never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost." That is precisely what Donald Trump set into motion.
If the Capitol insurrection was not enough warning of the consequences, consider this weekend's military coup in Myanmar, which was carried out the under the pretext of just such a bogus claim of election fraud, a thin disguise for the actual purpose of ignoring election results altogether.
Yet this is precisely what Donald Trump wants to bring to the floor of the Senate at his trial. His defense against incitement of insurrection will be to engage in further incitement, spreading the same seditious lies and trying to stir up his supporters against the duly elected government of the United States.
All of this is a choice.
Trump does not have to mount this defense. It is not the only nor is it the most effective approach available to him. He could have let his lawyers argue that his statements about the election were mere political claims and did not amount to direct incitement of specific acts of violence. He could have thrown his most fanatical supporters under the bus and disavowed any responsibility for their actions. Or he could simply have argued that it is not constitutional to impeach a president who is already out of office. These claims may not hold up in terms of strict legal argument, but an impeachment trial is not a strictly legal proceeding; it is political. Trump does not need to to convince everyone he is innocent. He needs to give just enough Republican senators some kind of respectable cover for acquittal votes they are actually going to cast for purely political reasons.
Instead, he plans to argue, in effect, that he was right to call for insurrection.
Trump isn't after mere acquittal. He is after domination and control. This is an attempt to break the Republican Party completely to the rule of his whims, forcing them to abase themselves to show their personal loyalty. And I am sure he is doing this with an eye to the next election. He wants to make sure that refusing to accept the actual vote result will become an article of faith for one of our major political parties. He is turning his faction, quite literally, into the anti-republican party.
When you think of it that way, this makes Trump's permanent removal from political life—his ostracism in the Ancient Greek sense—all the more urgent and necessary.