Senator Mitch McConnell does not have the courage of his convictions.
The powerful Kentucky senator voted to acquit former president Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial despite believing that Trump played a role in the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. McConnell voted not guilty but stated on February 13: “There’s no question – none – that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”
According to CNN, Senator McConnell said after voting against the impeachment charge: “(Trump) did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored. No. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily – happily – as the chaos unfolded.”
So why didn’t the venerable and learned senator use his lofty position to stand against inciting riots? Why did McConnell, who rightfully won many elections over his long career, defend a president who refused to accept defeat? The democratic system of government has worked well for McConnell and he knows the rules of order in the Senate as well as anyone. Why would the staid and somber former Senate majority leader let Trump make a mockery of Congress?
After all, McConnell was in the Capitol Building on the day of the riot. He gave a bold statement during a joint session of Congress, stating: “The United States and the United States Congress have faced down much greater threats than the unhinged crowd we saw today. We’ve never been deterred before, and we will not be deterred today. They tried to disrupt our democracy. They failed. They failed. They failed to attempt to obstruct the Congress.”
So where did the 78-year-old, veteran public servant’s boldness go? Senator McConnell gave a cloudy explanation for his acquittal vote. He said on February 13 that as a former president, “Trump is constitutionally not eligible for conviction.”
It doesn’t take a lawyer to see that Trump urged his supporters to try and overturn the election results through public disruption.
Given his long history of party loyalty, I believe that McConnell voted to acquit so that he could spare the G.O.P. embarrassment and move on. As Senate minority leader, McConnell still has a responsibility to protect and lead Republicans.
EVEN IF the Republican Party continues to exercise its power, the damage Trump and his followers have done to the party’s brand may lead the G.O.P. to lose future elections. In a Tufts University poll released in January 2021, young voters showed a strong preference for President Joe Biden over Trump.
Similarly, a November article by Morely Winograd and Michael Hais published by The Brookings Institution stated: “Millennials, now in their 20s and 30s, and the generation that follows them, Plurals (often erroneously called Gen Z), are translating their values of inclusion, equity and fairness into their overwhelming political preferences for the ideas, if not always the leadership, of the Democratic Party. In 2020, 18-to-29-year-olds, made up of Millennials as well as Plurals voting for the first time, preferred the Biden/Harris ticket over Trump by a 27-point margin (62% to 35%). Meanwhile, 30-to-44-year-olds, all but the oldest of whom are Millennials, gave the diverse ticket a seven-point margin, 52% to 45%.”
Republicans are losing young voters over ideas. The party may also lose this important voting bloc if G.O.P. leaders like McConnell fail to vote against the injustices they see. McConnell knew that Trump was wrong to incite the Capitol riot. But instead of voting for what was right, McConnell took the easier route and let Trump get away with urging an angry mob to try and violently overturn the results of a democratic election.
So was it party loyalty that motivated McConnell to not put his nation first? Or is the influential senator afraid of Trumpists, many of whom belong to extremist organizations such as QAnon and the Proud Boys? After all, the Senator’s Louisville, Kentucky home was vandalized with graffiti in early January 2021.
The entire situation is not only dramatic, but also sad. There is a long and valid history of conservative thought in America, and citizens are not being exposed to it because they are too busy watching riots flare.
All the while, skilled and powerful Republican leaders including McConnell fail to rise to the historic occasion.
The writer is a columnist who has been published by Hearst, Gannett, The Hill, McClatchy, and US News & World Report. He is a former associate editor of Hearst Magazines.