By JAMIE STIEHM
The second impeachment trial of former President Donald John Trump opened Tuesday afternoon. It’s the Super Bowl of all impeachments, with a single charge: The president incited an insurrection against Congress to overturn the 2020 election. Nothing like it has ever happened in our American story.
The House managers made an earthshaking case Tuesday on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
So, I have news for other journalists.
It’s not for us to write, tell or tweet the conventional wisdom that 50 Democratic senators won’t win the 17 Republican votes needed to convict Trump. We like to act as if we know it all ahead of time.
“Very unlikely,” opined Peter Alexander, an NBC News correspondent who doesn’t even cover Congress.
In this national drama, it’s unfair to the public not to play it as it lays. Let the process play out, just as the Super Bowl game did. Let the battle be lost or won as the trial unfolds. Otherwise, we detract from engaging with the trial’s grave meaning.
The power of press influence is a real factor on the field.
We in the world-weary media could affect the outcome, in a weird Washington way. Let’s not let the 50 Republican senators off the hook by assuming their votes are good as gone.
The result should be unclear at this point. Some Republican senators may vote their conscience, which is what the public expects.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader from Kentucky, can’t stand Trump, and he’s not the only one. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who contends they can’t impeach a leader who’s left office, won support for that notion. But he’s one of the least liked senators.
In the hurly-burly of an impeachment trial and public opinion, senators will be watching one another carefully. They will listen to constituents. There will be room for political mercury, surprises and tipping points.
And a handful may feel guilt at what their party hath wrought.
In February 1999, senators could not vote to convict President Bill Clinton over a slight affair. Public opinion sided with a president in peace and prosperity.
Looming large in the Senate chamber are haunting memories of fleeing an armed mob ready to take no prisoners. The Senate’s dignity was taunted, defiled, ransacked. Some rioter with horns and fur, a QAnon “shaman,” outrageously sat in the vice president’s chair.
Mike Pence was presiding over the constitutional ritual of confirming the Electoral College count. The mob had a gallows for him, Trump’s greatest loyalist.
The spectacle was outlandish and tragic. In the House chamber, where I was, we heard gunshot right outside the ornate speaker’s lobby. The Capitol felt like a war zone, even to combat veterans. The 100 senators, trial jurors, were witnesses to the crime scene.
The House managers, headed by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., will connect dots and present video images showing the raucous crowd taking directions from Trump by the White House to the murderous march to the Capitol.
When they arrived, the mob was in a frenzy. Rioters injured 139 police officers as they rammed windows and fought their way into the building. Many had military training to use against civilians — not a peaceful assembly covered by the First Amendment.
The world witnessed the armed mob storm the Capitol, following Trump’s orders, “We fight like hell,” in a rally. The violence tens of thousands did to the burnished halls, rooms and doors can be repaired.
For those like me inside the siege, memories of bloodthirsty shrieks, broken glass, pounding footsteps and white supremacist flags stay with you. Blood fell on marble floors. Statues wept.
And it could have been so much worse.
In 1868, the dour white supremacist President Andrew Johnson came in one vote shy of conviction in his impeachment trial. Like Trump, he never won a popular vote. He’s like Trump’s history cousin, only better.
I remember Trump’s first trial seen from the press gallery, clear as a February day in 2020. There was one lone “guilty” vote from the Republican side: The urbane Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
Then Trump was charged with interfering with the election using a foreign power, Ukraine.
Now we see that as child’s play, next to inciting an insurrection. Child’s play.