You don’t have to lie to make former President Donald Trump’s speech on Jan. 6, given to a rally in the hours before the Capitol incursion, look bad.
Republicans, Democrats, independents, Green Party members, that guy who got famous for saying “the rent is too damn high,” Trotskyites, members of the Federalist Society, people who say they’re “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” without really knowing what any of that means — pretty much everyone who watched that speech came away with a severe grimace, at best.
No high schooler, preparing for an interscholastic declamation contest and sifting through speeches they could possibly give, is going to pass up the Gettysburg Address, William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” or Marc Antony’s funeral oration from “Julius Caesar,” and instead alight on Trump’s remarks as the Electoral College results were being certified.
However, if you’re trying to make a case for incitement before a fruitless impeachment trial to convict a president who’s already left office and you want to put pressure on Republicans, that’s a different matter entirely.
On Sunday, Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren appeared on CNN’s “Inside Politics,” mostly to talk up the less-palatable parts of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief package — which just so happens to be the parts Warren loves, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Then came the topic of Trump’s impeachment trial, scheduled to begin in two weeks. Host Abby Phillip wondered if there was “a risk that Republican opposition to Trump will fade the longer you wait.”
“I can’t imagine how Republican opposition to insurrection would fade over the space of a couple of weeks,” Warren said.
“We’re talking about a president who stood in front of a mob and told them to go to the Capitol and invade, told them to go to the Capitol and stop the lawful business of government so that he could try to stay in the White House.
“That is so fundamentally wrong. I just — we have to think about what’s at issue here. You know, Donald Trump, for years, has broken so many norms, has had people say over and over that they are shocked by what he does.
“But this one, insurrection, this is the first time since the Civil War that we have seen someone, a politician, encourage people to take up arms against the United States government and its lawful actions.
“We need accountability, accountability for Donald Trump and accountability for everyone who participated in that insurrection.”
So, here’s what Donald Trump said, in short: not that.
Now, again, GOP opposition to the content and tone of the speech was pretty uniform. The worst quote House Democrats could mention when they drew up articles of impeachment, however, was “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Yes, there was unpleasant talk about “weak Republicans” and how then-Vice President Mike Pence shouldn’t allow the Electoral College results to be certified. However, in the portions of the speech where Trump specifically talked about the march to the Capitol, not only was there no talk of invasion, but he stressed the peaceful nature of the walk with clarity.
“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” Trump said, per a transcript from The Associated Press.
“Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated.
“I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
The Capitol was only mentioned again later in the speech, when Trump said that “we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I love Pennsylvania Avenue. And we’re going to the Capitol.”
In the first case, it’s made explicit Trump wasn’t fomenting violence. In the second case, I’d argue it’s implicit. You’d have a difficult time convincing any regular jury that, if you read between the words “I love Pennsylvania Avenue. And we’re going to the Capitol,” the subtext was “Invade!”
This isn’t a regular jury, though. It’s the U.S. Senate, and if the prosecution is hoping a second impeachment is anything more than a frivolous time-wasting exercise that serves as little more than free political advertisement for the Democrats, they need to get 17 Republican votes for a conviction.
In short, the easiest way to erode Republican opposition to the speech is to pretend this is about “Republican opposition to insurrection” because of the lie that Trump “stood in front of a mob and told them to go to the Capitol and invade.”
That’s a lie. Elizabeth Warren knows that’s a lie; there’s little doubt she’s seen the speech and read the transcript.
She’s cynically counting on the fact that America hasn’t done those things, however, and that she can tar as many Republicans as possible with the bogus implication that he did.
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