On the night before the momentous Senate vote on whether to remove Donald Trump from office, Trump smugly — and I think that’s a fair description — delivered his State of the Union speech. He knew how the impeachment vote would turn out, although he may not have counted on Mitt Romney’s boldly-stated defection. It was left to Romney to make the argument that not all Republican politicians lack either conscience or courage.
Trump’s version of the State of the Union was riddled, of course, with half-truths, misstatements of fact and, sure, lies. But even though impeachment was never mentioned, it was the obvious subtext throughout the speech. You could hear it as Trump made absolutely clear that the cold civil war in America and especially in American politics is rapidly heating up, And that Trump, not without reason, believes he’s winning the war.
I mean, how much more base-pandering is possible than to present Rush Limbaugh the presidential Medal of Freedom on the spot. Yes, it’s quite sad that Limbaugh has lung cancer, but that doesn’t change the fact that Rush Limbaugh is Rush Limbaugh, as provocative and divisive a figure in America as Trump himself.
And yet, at this point, you’d have to say that the 2020 presidential race is a toss-up. Democrats are still counting votes in Iowa, the Electoral College is still in place, Mitch McConnell held all but one GOP senator in line for the impeachment trial vote, the latest Gallup poll has Trump’s approval rating at a career-high 49 percent despite the damning evidence of Trump’s conduct on Ukraine.
And you can be sure Trump is more certain than ever that his infamous Fifth Avenue shooting boast has now basically become the law of the land.
In Trump’s speech, he made no call for American unity in these hyper-polarized times. Any other president — every other president — would have called for America to come together and pledged his/her willingness to lead that charge. Not Trump, of course. The national divide is very much part of his philosophy of campaigning/governing — Trump’s victimized us standing strongly against his opponents’ victimizer them. And you saw, in his delivery of red meat to the base, a prolonged attack on his ultimate other — the so-called dangerous and lawless undocumented immigrant.
The red-blue divide, first recognized during the Bush-Gore triple overtime election fight, is now little more than a relic. New lines have been drawn. And crossing them, as Romney will surely learn, has a cost. As the kids say, for reals.
And so, the only thing that will be remembered from the State of the Union will be Trump’s snub of Nancy Pelosi’s handshake offer just prior to the speech and Pelosi’s very public ripping up of her copy of Trump’s speech just as he finished delivering it.
The visuals are important — and you’ll see them again and again — because they do, in fact, tell the story of the moment.
Just as the impeachment trial did. Just before the votes, McConnell gave a speech blasting Democrats for having the temerity to impeach Trump. Romney’s difference of opinion couldn’t have been more clear: “There’s no question that the president asked a foreign power to investigate his political foe. That he did so for a political purpose, and that he pressured Ukraine to get them to help or to lead in this effort. My own view is that there’s not much I can think of that would be a more egregious assault on our Constitution than trying to corrupt an election to maintain power. And that’s what the president did.”
That is precisely what the president did. Any honest reading of the facts makes that clear. Susan Collins, in explaining her vote to convict, had said that she “believed” that in being impeached Trump had learned not shake down foreign leaders for personal gain. Meanwhile, Trump said he had done nothing wrong and there was no lesson to be learned, after which Collins amended her statement saying she “hopes” Trump had learned his lesson.
On the Colorado front, both Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner gave speeches on the Senate floor on impeachment. Yes, Gardner spoke. In Bennet’s impassioned speech for conviction, he called Trump’s actions a “textbook” case for impeachment and said the Republicans’ unwillingness to hear from former National Security Advisor John Bolton and other new witnesses was “pitiful” and “disgraceful,” adding, “And it will be a stain on this body for all time.”
Meanwhile, Cory Gardner made the most Cory Gardnerish defense of Trump possible. Gardner ignored the facts of the trial and pretended the impeachment was about something else altogether — not about abuse of power, not about an egregious assault on the Constitution, not about a ham-handed extortion attempt conducted by Trump along with Rudy Giuliani and his thugs, but about Trump’s handling of a policy issue.
Here’s what Gardner told The Denver Post following the speech: “The question before us is whether or not a policy question can be grounds for impeachment. The policy question is, can the president be impeached for looking at how taxpayer dollars are being spent? I simply don’t think that’s true.”
So Gardner is saying that Trump was impeached because he improperly held up the congressional-approved military aid to Ukraine — and not because he held up the aid as part of a campaign meant to force Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into Joe Biden, a potential presidential opponent. The policy issue, I guess, is whether the president can extort a foreign leader for personal gain.
And so the anger grows. Trump is furious that he got impeached. Pelosi is furious that after her careful handling of impeachment, Dems could find only two Republican senators to join them in a vote for an actual trial. They needed four. Meanwhile, Biden supporters have to wonder if the Trump legal team’s bogus attacks on Biden on the Senate floor cost him votes in Iowa.
And now we still have nine months before a far more momentous vote — on whether Trump can be re-elected. I don’t know the answer. But it should give us a much closer reading of the state of the union than the speech Pelosi decided should be shred.