Friday, February 7, 2020

BTRTN: The Audience of One in the Mirror

Thank you, Mitt Romney. You are what John F. Kennedy would call a profile in courage.

What a week in America.

The supposed “unifiers” (that would be the Democrats) emerged from Iowa splintered, divided, and acrimonious, and the “dividers” (Trumpublicans) are unified, gleeful, and celebrating.

The tech-savvy, renewable economy, Silicon Valley Democrats can’t write functioning code for an iPhone App, while the old white luddites running the Republican party continue to coddle Facebook so that Vladimir Putin can carry on his campaign of social media disinformation.
Late night comedians are the must-book interview for Democratic candidates, and the State of the Union is a Republican game show. 

Cable news programs find dozens of video clips of Republican Senators taking the exact opposite positions in the Clinton impeachment trial than the ones they have taken in the Trump trial. Call these juxtapositions “The Grahammies,” in honor of the Senator from South Carolina who has raised hypocrisy to a performance art.
Yeah, it’s a low bar in America right now, but our nation of besotted partisans still manage to stumble into it.

Helping set that very low bar is Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who can really talk one tough game. She called Trump's actions “shameful and wrong,” but then voted against a motion to open the trial to witnesses, justifying her position with this puzzling rationale:

“Given the partisan nature of this proceeding from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is a sad day for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.” 

Wha? It sorta sounds like Murkowski is saying this… Since Republican Senators had already made up their minds, there was no reason to introduce evidence that might, uh, change their minds? And didn’t she just say that Trump’s actions were “wrong?”

Ah, and then there is Maine Senator Susan Collins, who was one of only two Republican Senators to vote that the Senate trial be opened to additional witnesses and documents. That would seem to hint that Collins felt that it had been wrong for the Executive Branch to fail to comply with valid Congressional subpoenas. Yet without any of the new witnesses and evidence she had demanded, she proceeded to vote to acquit on both articles of impeachment, including “obstruction of Congress,” the one that argued that the President had, uh, failed to comply with subpoenas. 

Both of these Senators tried to be a bit too clever, as each tried to sound like they were talking tough with the President even as they caved to his will on the actual impeachment vote.  Each got twisted into a pretzel of inconsistent logic in their desperate efforts to appear strong and independent to their constituents while still falling in line behind Donald Trump. 

Collins even took the position that the impeachment process had taught Trump “a pretty big lesson,” adding that she felt he would be “much more cautious in the future.” This clearly conveyed that she thought the Democrats were justified in ratifying articles of impeachment. But Collins was rapidly humiliated when she had to admit that she had no basis for her conclusion that Trump had changed. “Well,” she later acknowledged, “I may not be correct on that.” 

So, Senator Collins, you thought that the Dems were right to impeach Trump, because that “taught him a lesson.” And in some part because you felt he had learned his lesson, you decided it was unnecessary to remove him from office. Then you found out that he had not learned any lessons. And yet you acquitted him. Oy.

What a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive. 

You can’t have it both ways, Senators. If you are going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. You can’t just hope that talking tough will mitigate the fact that when the final vote came, there you were, huddled in fear, seeking the anonymity of the Republican mob, just another lemming who was afraid to go up against the powers that be. Nobody was fooled. 

The irony, of course, is that when Donald Trump forces the Lisa Murkowskis and Susan Collins of the world to bend to his will, he is robbing them of the very thing that makes them attractive to their constituencies. By bullying them into toeing the party line, Trump extracts the very aura of independence that enabled these Senators to win in highly contested states. Rob them of their independence and they are less appealing to voters.

Consider the possibility that Trump’s unflinching demand for total submission could result in Republicans losing seats in Alaska, Colorado, and North Carolina, as voters sternly judge Senators who took the side of Donald Trump in the face of national polls showing that 75% of the population wanted to see witnesses at the impeachment trial. Add Maine due to Collins' humiliation and you've flipped the Senate.

Murkowski and Collins struggled mightily to walk a tightrope between appearing to attend to the wishes of their constituencies while simultaneously supplicating to Trump. Unfortunately, in their Republican Party, there are no multiple audiences. There is only an “audience of one” in this party. 

Much has been made in the media about “the audience of one in the White House.” 

It is a reference to the fact that many Republicans preen on Fox News, loudly and lovingly lathering lengthy litanies of their loyalty to Donald Trump, dearly hoping that it is “executive time” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue... that special time when Donald Trump retreats with his remote into the remote recesses of self-pity, sucking on the fire hose of Fox News deceit for nourishment, self-esteem, and positive reinforcement. 

It is such a sad, sad image… leaders of the Republican Party prostrating themselves before Fox News so that they can send their message of unmitigated fealty to the Supreme Leader, the audience of one at the White House.

All of which made the one, shining, glorious moment of the week utterly breathtaking. 

If you have not yet seen the video of Mitt Romney explaining his decision to vote that Donald Trump was guilty on the first article of impeachment, you must go to YouTube and find it.

In a week of sickening sycophants and abject moral bankruptcy, you will feel instantly elevated by the emotion, power, and the religious imperative expressed by the only leader in the Republican Party today who had the courage to defy his party. It is a magnificent moment. 

Interestingly, Mitt Romney, too, has an audience of one. 

But his is a very, very different audience of one.

If you watch Romney’s brief speech on the Senate floor, you will be quite impressed by the way Mitt briskly carves up the arguments put forth by the President’s lawyers.

To the notion advanced by Trump’s lawyers that there can be “no impeachment without a statutory crime,” Romney flung this dart: “to maintain that the lack of a codified and comprehensive list of all the outrageous acts that a President might conceivably commit renders Congress powerless to remove a President defies reason.” Zing!

Where Trump’s lawyers had argued that the behavior of the Bidens warranted investigation, Romney countered: “Given that in neither the case of the father nor the son was any evidence presented by the President’s counsel that a crime had been committed, the President’s insistence that they be investigated by the Ukrainians is hard to explain other than as a political pursuit.” Smackdown!

Where Trump’s lawyers argued that the Senate should leave the impeachment decision to the voters, Romney was curt. “It is inconsistent with the Constitution’s requirement that the Senate, not the voters, try the President.” Game, set, match.

Romney sealed the deal. “The grave question the Constitution tasks Senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did.”

With efficient and economical dispatch, Romney flushed Trump’s defense strategies down the logic toilet as if just another form of human waste.

And just that quickly, Mitt Romney shattered Donald Trump’s dream that he could characterize the impeachment as a strictly partisan witch hunt.

Yesterday, The New York Times took odd pains to point out that Mitt Romney has never been a role model for high-minded consistency, noting that his political career has had its share of opportunistic shifts and acrobatic flip-flops. It was Romney who, when running for President in 2012, squirmed when trying to explain why the healthcare system he instituted while Governor of Massachusetts was not for all practical purposes identical to ObamaCare, which had been villainized by Republicans. Indeed, we here at Born To Run The Numbers ran two pieces in 2012 on Romney’s philosophical flips, one entitled “Mitt of Amnesia,” and a second called “Proteus Rex,” a wink at a Greek God whose gift was the ability to rapidly change shapes.  Yes, sure, you can criticize Romney for frequent glances at the political weather vane. 

But in matters of faith, conscience, and sacred oaths, we see a different Romney.

In the matter of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, Mitt Romney stood alone among Republicans. And he was not waffling, wavering, pompously posing or preening.

It would have been extremely easy for Romney to pull a Murkowski, sternly posturing about his high-minded outrage for the cameras, only to slink back into the morass of morally compromised Republicans when time came to vote. He could have just talked the talk.

But he did not.

Alone, he walked the walk. 

“Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Mitt Romney voted to remove Donald Trump from office, becoming the first Senator in history to vote to convict a President of his own party, and causing the call for Donald Trump’s removal from office to be truly bipartisan… just as Nancy Pelosi had sought so many months ago.

There will be people who will say that Mitt Romney was simply squaring an old feud with Trump, or that he has nothing to lose in his action, given his wealth and the fact that he is four years away from facing election. This is foolish. It is now plain as day that Donald Trump will put the full power of his office to the task of wounding enemies. With William Barr doing his bidding from the DoJ, who thinks that Trump won’t set the investigative powers of the government on an urgent mission to find dirt on Romney? Or on his family? Who knows whether Trump’s projectile venom will not set off yet another right wing pipe bomb crackpot like Cesar Sayoc, who will attempt to act on Trump’s vicious musings?

Mitt Romney knew damn well that triggering the fury of this President of the United States could easily result in persecution if not very real danger for him and his family. 

Romney went ahead and made the hard choice, the path that required a profile in courage that Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins lack.

And like so many Republicans, Mitt Romney made his decision based an audience of one.

The difference is that for his Republican colleagues, the “audience of one” is the hoary, horrid bully at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

For Mitt Romney, the “audience of one” is the man in the mirror.

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  1. Romney voted for witnesses, then voted for impeachment article one. Both of those votes obviously violated the Republican solidarity sought by Mitch McConnell, carrying out the strategies worked up with the White House. The blow back was immediate -- Trump, Trump's family, many Republican supporters (including his niece), and constituents in Utah all chimed in. Short term anger and vitriol are already shown, and no doubt longer term suspicion and snubs are certain. His choice may well not only complicate his political life -- but it will also impact the lives of his sons in their business and political lives.

    I suspect Romney had a very select audience in his mind -- his God, his father, his spouse, and his descendants. His political future isn't clear -- he's of an age that he may or may not run again. Much of the reaction will have been swallowed up in the success or failure of Trump in 2020.

    But he will be remembered for his vote, long after the rest of his relationship with Trump and Trump's Party is forgotten.

  2. Especially if he runs as an Independent with a conservative bent! That would screw Trump once and for all!


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