In my review of the results of November's election, I heralded the outcome as relatively good for the country—Trump out of office, but Democrats without a congressional majority—but I noted that the right did not get its moment of reckoning with Trumpism. While he lost the presidential election, no other Republicans in Congress, and relatively few Republicans in the statehouses, lost their elections, so the party and the wider conservative movement could be complacent about the legacy of the past four years and Donald Trump's continuing influence.
Not any more. The last two days have been the reckoning that they kept pushing off in the hope that it would never come. It came.
First, let's consider the results from Tuesday's Senate run-off elections in Georgia. In a state that has long been a conservative bastion, both Republicans were defeated. In early November David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were considered to be in a strong position to win re-election—until Donald Trump spent the last two months indulging in escalating conspiracy theories and starting a civil war within the Republican Party, specifically centered on the Georgia GOP. Just a few days before the runoff, Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, released audio of a call Trump made to him demanding that he "recalculate" the Georgia totals in order to "find 11,780 votes," the amount needed for Trump to win the state. This was a purely internecine fight among Republicans.
As to the substance of Trump's claims, consider this admission from Trump sycophant Lou Dobbs: "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."
That sums up the state of the evidence and also the epistemology of the die-hard Trump supporter. How is it that "everyone knows" something for which there is no "actual proof" or "verifiable, tangible support"? If the evidence is lacking, wouldn't that mean that you don't know it? What Dobbs really means is that he feels that the election fraud narrative is true, or more accurately he feels that he wants it to be true. I was going to say that this is the epistemology of faith, but it's more like the epistemology of emotionalism—though the two amount to the same thing in the end.
Maintaining this fantasy has consequences. Early results in the Senate run-offs indicate high turnout among Democrats, whose disgust with Trump kept them engaged in what would generally be a low-turnout afterthought to the main election. Meanwhile, Republicans did not turn out. Some in the GOP were repulsed by Trump and by the Georgia candidates' embrace of his conspiracy theories. Others stayed home because they really believed that the vote is rigged against them, and because they were mad that Perdue and Loeffler didn't do enough to back Trump.
And so Republicans have thrown away control of the Senate, producing a 50-50 split, with incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.
This is not entirely catastrophic for the country, because it means the balance of power will go, not to Harris, but to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the most conservative of the few remaining conservative Democrats. He will now be the swing vote for anything that requires a simple majority in the Senate. But for professional politicians, the prospect of losing their jobs and their influence is going to hit hard.
Yet this was just the beginning of the reckoning. Yesterday, as Congress met to officially recognize the results of the Electoral College vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a very good speech summing up the implications of some senators' challenges to the results.
Dozens of lawsuits received hearings in courtrooms all across our country, but over and over, the courts rejected these claims, including all-star judges whom the president himself has nominated....
The Constitution gives us here in Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken. They've all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.
This election actually was not unusually close. Just in recent history, 1976, 2000, and 2004 were all closer than this one. The Electoral College margin is almost identical to what it was in 2016. 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....
It would be unfair and wrong to disenfranchise American voters and overrule the courts and the states on this extraordinarily thin basis. And I will not pretend such a vote would be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing. I will vote to respect the people's decision and defend our system of government as we know it.
That last paragraph perfectly describes senators like Ted Cruz and especially Josh Hawley, who pandered to election conspiracies without really believing them. The idea was that they would gain the loyalty of Trump's most fanatical supporters, but that the protests would fizzle out and amount to nothing.
Then reality called their bluff, in the form of a #MAGA mob storming the Capitol and taking over the floor of the House and Senate.
Let's stop to contemplate this a bit, because this is a nasty and unprecedented bit of history we just lived through: A mob incited by the president of the United States stormed the US Capitol building to disrupt the certification of the election of his successor. And they succeeded, if only for a few hours.
Yes, Donald Trump incited them. He's been doing it openly over a period of months and with increasing intensity over the past few weeks. At The Bulwark yesterday, I described the case for immediately impeaching the president, removing him from office—and then handing the case over to a prosecutor to indict him for sedition. Here is the core of my case.
Trump's actions perfectly fit the legal definition of sedition: conspiring "by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof."...
A plea from Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher says it all: "The president needs to call this off.... Call it off, Mr. President. You need to call it off." To ask the president to call it off implies that he called it on. Which we all know he did.
It was Trump who spent months casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election, claiming that he actually won it, and dismissing the officially certified results as fraudulent based on entirely made-up claims and crackpot conspiracy theories. He is the one who called on right-wing militias to "stand back and stand by," endorsed poisonous QAnon conspiracy theories, and openly entertained sycophants who called for him to declare martial law. He was the one who summoned his supporters to Washington, D.C., for a day of "wild protest." He is the one who egged them on in a speech earlier that day, vowing that "we will never concede" and thundering that "Our country has had enough. We won't take it anymore." and that "We're going to have to fight much harder." These are all acts of incitement that make him responsible for the seditious attack on the Capitol mere minutes later.
This makes for a pretty straightforward list of articles of impeachment, for which no arcane evidence or lengthy testimony is required. It has all been done in public view.
Read the whole thing, because I really bring the heat, including against co-conspirators like Cruz and Hawley who "toyed with sedition for political gain."
The measure of how bad yesterday was is that I am far from alone in calling for the immediate impeachment of a president who has less than two weeks remaining in office. The Democrats are all for it, of course, as are the usual #NeverTrumpers at The Bulwark and The Dispatch. But there are also a slew of people calling for this at more mainstream conservative outlets like National Review.
Trump administration officials are starting to resign—rats deserting the sinking ship at the last minute and whining that they only "signed up for lower taxes and less regulation," as if these were ever Trump's central concerns. Those who remain are hunkering down, avoiding the president and his staff and preparing to resist any orders he gives between now and January 20. There is open talk about having the cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president, though Kyle Smith offers a good argument for why that is not the right way to do it. This is Congress's responsibility—though it must be admitted that first reflex of Congress is always to evade its responsibilities.
Yet this moment all has the feeling of a turning point, the point at which Trump and Trumpism lie exposed and discredited, and it is generally acknowledged that the Republican Party is entering a period of vicious civil war. Good luck to them.
This is the reckoning many of us expected, arrived at last. We'll see if anything good comes from it.
As I observed in November, the tradeoff is that the postponement of this reckoning meant a better outcome for the country in the short term. Its arrival, particularly in this form, means a far worse outcome for the country as a whole, at least for a little while.
The immediate priority is to make it through the next two weeks with as little additional damage to our republic as possible, and then to begin a monumental task of political and philosophical rebuilding.