Trump gets acquitted (again).

Plus, reader feedback to our edition on China.
Isaac Saul Feb 15, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free, subscribe for Friday editions and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 11 minutes.

Today is Presidents’ Day. Most other newsletters are taking the day off, but Tangle is getting cozy in your inbox to be sure you’re up to date on the latest news. As a historic snowstorm hits Texas, negative temperatures rock Colorado, and freezing rain covers the northeast, we hope you’re finding a way to enjoy Presidents' Day, originally a celebration to honor George Washington. Fun fact: Washington was born on February 22nd, 1732, but we now celebrate all presidents on the third Monday of February every year. Today, we’re covering Trump’s acquittal, correcting the record from Friday’s newsletter/podcast, and sharing some feedback about my writing on China.

Donald Trump at CPAC. Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Clarification.

On Friday, I sent out a transcription of my podcast interview with Frank Morano. We discussed everything from his Donald Trump stories to his thoughts on Andrew Yang to why the former mobster John Gotti Jr. was at his wedding. During our conversation, we also got into policing in New York, and more specifically rules about New York police officers having to live in one of the five boroughs, at which point I said this:

I can't think of any other job — besides maybe being a member of Congress — where you don't have the freedom to live where you want, which strikes me as problematic to try and apply that to police officers.

This was a misleading comment for a few reasons: 1) Members of Congress don’t technically have to live in the districts they serve in. It’s extremely rare that they don’t (and politically unwise), but there is no law or rule barring them from living outside their districts, though they do have to live in the states they run in. 2) There are actually quite a few jobs where residency is required. One reader pointed me to Philadelphia, where many city employees have to live in Philadelphia proper.

Anyway, the conversation was really fun. You can listen to it here (rate the podcast!) or read it here.


Quick hits

  1. Joe Biden’s Deputy White House press secretary TJ Ducklo resigned after threatening a Politico reporter in a misogynistic tirade over questions about his relationship with an Axios reporter. (Politico)
  2. The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican group, is facing legal trouble after a co-founder was accused of sexually harassing young men and former members raised questions about how it was spending donations from predominantly liberal donors. (Associated Press)
  3. Earmarks, the Congressional provisions that can direct spending to a specific project in a Congressional district, are coming back. Earmarks were banned after several corruption scandals involving their use, but some members of Congress have long pushed to reinstate them because they can also be used to strike deals and advance legislation. (Punchbowl News)
  4. Joe Biden is winning support for his $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus bill amongst Republican mayors and governors, but not amongst Republicans in Congress. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  5. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is engulfed in cover-up claims after a top aide conceded to Democratic lawmakers that the administration slow-walked accurate numbers about how many people had died in nursing homes. (Politico)

What D.C. is talking about.

Acquittal. On Saturday, the U.S. Senate voted by a 57-43 margin to acquit former President Trump of the charge that he incited an insurrection at the Capitol. The vote ended a weeklong impeachment trial that made history by being the first to ever involve a former president and also the first to ever involve a president being impeached for a second time.

All 48 Democrats, two independents and seven Republicans voted to impeach Trump, but the Senate still came up 10 votes short of the 67 vote supermajority needed to convict a president. The seven Republicans who broke party lines were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voted to acquit Trump and then delivered his harshest rebuke of the president yet, saying on the Senate floor that he was “practically and morally responsible” for the January 6th riots that left five people dead and upended the counting the of the electoral college votes.

“It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree,” Trump said in a statement. “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.”

Below, we’ll take a look at some responses to the acquittal.


What the right is saying.

Like Congress, the right is divided on how impeachment went down. Some believe Trump was innocent of wrongdoing, others believe he carries blame for the riots but the Senate does not have the jurisdiction to convict him, and some believe he should have been convicted but that the senate lacked the political will to do it.

In The New York Post, Michael Goodwin took the “innocence” position.

“This was a show trial, an attempt by Democrats to humiliate Trump after his election defeat and force Republicans to side with him or against him,” Goodwin wrote. “While the president’s speech before the Capitol riot was at times too angry and bitter, there was nothing in it that could reasonably be seen as intending to incite an insurrection, as the single House article charged.

“In fact, the case was in many ways the mirror image of the partisan putsch that Dem leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer engineered over the Ukraine piffle almost exactly a year ago,” he added. “For Trump, the acquittal allows him to begin moving on with his life and focus on what role he wants to play in the 2022 midterms and whether he wants to run in 2024. He must also deal with the fact that various prosecutors are looking at his businesses and other ­issues. Beyond that, expect Democrats to be especially creative in trying to keep Trump’s name in the headlines. Nothing unites their fractured party like hating him, and Saturday’s failure will provide more fuel for their perpetual outrage.”

Last week, The Wall Street Journal editorial board essentially took the Mitch McConnell position, arguing that Trump “told an apocalyptic fable in which American democracy might end on Jan. 6, and some people who believed him acted like it.” This morning, it urged the party to move on.

“All of this was compounded by Mr. Trump’s failure to act with dispatch to call off the rioters once he heard what was happening,” the board wrote. Mr. Trump’s defenders blame Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the District of Columbia government for lack of preparedness, which is fair enough. Some of the riot leaders may also have pre-planned the assault, and there is much police still haven’t disclosed. But none of that absolves Mr. Trump for refusing for hours to ask his supporters to stand down.

“Mr. Trump may run again, but he won’t win another national election,” the board said. “He lost re-election before the events of Jan. 6, and as President his job approval never rose above 50%. He may go on a revenge campaign tour, or run as a third-party candidate, but all he will accomplish is to divide the center-right and elect Democrats. The GOP’s defeats in the two Jan. 5 Georgia Senate races proved that.”

In The Atlantic, David Frum took the anti-Trump position, arguing that he still lost.

“Thanks to their integrity, a clear majority of the Senate voted to condemn the former president as an insurrectionist against the United States,” Frum wrote. “The 57–43 margin wasn’t enough to convict under the Constitution. It wasn’t enough to formally disqualify Trump from ever again seeking office in the United States. But practically? It will do as a solemn and eternal public repudiation of Trump’s betrayal of his oath of office.

“You say that you are disappointed? That a mere rebuke was not enough? That justice was not done? It wasn’t,” he added. “But now see the world from the other side, through the eyes of those who defend Trump or even want him to run again. Their hope was to dismiss this impeachment as partisan, as founded on fake evidence, as hypocritical and anti-constitutional—to present this verdict as an act of oppression by one half of the country against the other. That hope was banished today. It’s not half against half. It’s a clear American majority—including a sizable part of the Republican Senate caucus—against a minority. And even many of the senators who voted to acquit went on record to condemn Trump as an outlaw and a seditionist.”


What the left is saying.

The left is infuriated, despite the fact that the outcome seemed pre-ordained, and wonders why Republicans continue to protect a disgraced former president.

In Slate, Tom Scocca argued that the “mob” was still inside the Capitol, writing that Democrats had to try to separate Republican senators from Trump to win their votes but that it still didn’t work.

“To prosecute the impeachment trial required the House managers to ignore the obvious, telling a story of Trump’s guilt that overlooked their jurors’ role in the same misdeeds,” Scocca said. “Had the president, in the months-long violent buildup to the attack on the certification, celebrated his supporters’ attack on a Biden campaign bus? Yes, but so had Sen. Marco Rubio. Did the president pressure Georgia officials to make up reasons to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state? Yes, but so did Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“Still, the distance between the insurrectionists and the people judging the insurrection kept collapsing,” he added. “If the costumed bozo in the face paint and furry helmet was no longer shouting in the Senate chamber, there was still Sen. Mike Lee, repeatedly breaking into the proceedings to yell his objections when the managers mentioned the story of how Trump had called Lee’s phone, mid-riot, to keep lobbying senators to block the certification. The story was false, Lee said, though he never specified how, let alone volunteered to testify under oath.”

The USA Today editorial board argued that Trump should be banished from democracy, reminding readers that his “life and liberty will in no way suffer” if he were convicted.

“Trump's perfidy, laid out through graphic video in the Senate chamber, was his ability as president to promote the lie of a stolen election,” the board said. “It was his malignant skill in using that lie to provoke thousands of violent followers into storming Capitol Hill to disrupt Congress' constitutional duty to count final voting results.

“In fact, the vote was momentarily disrupted. The Capitol was overrun for the first time since a British invasion in 1814. Five people died, including a police officer trying to defend the Capitol and the members of Congress inside, and at least 138 officers were injured battling the mob,” the board said. “One of the most startling revelations of the trial was that Trump nearly got his vice president killed. Mike Pence had refused Trump's demand that he throw out valid electoral votes while presiding over the congressional count.

“After it was clear rioters had breached the Capitol, something Trump could plainly see on television, he tweeted that ‘Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.’ The words were read aloud by rioters, who chanted, ‘Hang Mike Pence,’ as they hunted him through the halls.”


My take.

Eric Trump celebrated the acquittal by tweeting “2-0,” which is something his father may have done had he still been on Twitter, as if being impeached twice was somehow a noteworthy accomplishment. Rep. Jim Jordan, another staunch Trump ally, hit a similar note: “Acquitted again!” he said. And that seemed to be the angle Trump’s closest allies decided to take.

Of course, this is not a win for the president.

He lost the election by seven million votes, and lost previously red Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, and Wisconsin. He was impeached twice (with more votes to convict in the second trial than any president ever), left office with term-low approval ratings, handed over total control of government to the most progressive administration and Congress ever, all while the Republican party is now in the midst of its own divisive realignment precisely because of the president’s actions. And, of course, Trump has probably made himself unelectable in 2024. But sure. 2-0!

The Democratic impeachment managers made a far stronger case than the ones who prosecuted the impeachment case over the Ukraine scandal. But it was still flawed from the beginning. Besides their inexplicably stupid and reckless decision to present deceptively edited evidence by changing tweets they showed during the hearings, even though the unedited evidence was just as damning or worse, they boxed themselves in by settling on a single charge of incitement of insurrection.

As I’ve written here, the most obvious and indisputable impeachable offense of Trump’s term was his calling state election officials and pressuring them to change their election results, of which there is an hour-long recording. Still, given the charges, Democrats made a compelling case, and plenty of Senate Republicans and conservative, pro-Trump pundits admitted as much, while simultaneously attaching themselves to the fragile position that the Senate had no jurisdiction to convict a former president, even though both his offense and impeachment occurred while he was still in office.

Mitch McConnell, the de facto leader of the party, embodied this position by voting to acquit Trump, and then immediately delivering the following remarks: "There's no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it."

Of course, McConnell was also the one who delayed Trump’s impeachment trial so that he would be tried as a former president. McConnell also suggested Trump may face charges for his actions leading up to the riots in civilian courts, an idea that strikes me as unlikely at best.

McConnell’s play is purely political. He knew he couldn’t get 16 Republican senators to vote with him, but he also knows he needs to keep control over his caucus. If he had voted to convict, there’s a good chance he would’ve faced a push to remove him from his leadership position. And ultimately retaining power means more to him than voting in a manner consistent with everything else he’s said about the entire trial we all just witnessed.

As Yashar Ali pointed out on Twitter, the secret behind how the seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump is rather obvious. Sens. Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins and Ben Sasse were all just re-elected and won’t see another ballot for six years. Richard Burr and Pat Toomey are not running again, and Mitt Romney is up for re-election in four years, but who knows if he’ll even run. Maybe he’ll take another swing at the presidency. Either way, his support in Utah has, so far, been mostly unmoved by his criticism of Trump, which is unique. Lisa Murkowski is up for re-election in 2022, and made perhaps the most perilous political move of any, but she has managed to maintain support in Alaska despite her anti-Trump votes thus far. In other words, all of the Republicans who voted to convict Trump also happened to be risking very little in the way of their political careers.

Democrats, on the other hand, continued their Trump-era trend of not following through on their rhetoric. After weeks of saying Trump was a grave threat to democracy, one that had to be dealt with, and promising to get to the bottom of January 6th, they finally got their chance by getting enough Republicans on board to call witnesses to the trial. And then, in a matter of hours, and in classic modern-day Democrat fashion, they balked.

Rather than extend the trial for a couple more days or perhaps weeks, and add a great deal of firsthand evidence to the record, Democrats threw in the towel. They justified this in two ways: one, by restating the obvious, which was that it was almost certain no witness testimony would change any more Republican votes than they’d already changed. And two, because extending the trial would bog down the Senate while Biden tried to advance his agenda. Oh, also, it was Valentine’s Day weekend and they wanted to go home.

Biden continued to show superior political instincts to his Congressional counterparts by barely weighing in on impeachment, but I guarantee he wanted it to be over if it ended when it did. Democrats made the decision that moving on to Biden’s agenda was a bigger priority than bringing witnesses to Trump’s impeachment. I agree, and I said last week I was looking forward to when we were all focused on issues that impact the lives of Americans every day. But ending the trial with no witness testimony after weeks of swearing up and down that getting to the bottom of Jan. 6th was an absolute imperative is exactly the kind of hypocritical and contradictory political maneuvering that produces so many political liberals who are registered independents.

So here we are: Trump was acquitted when he shouldn’t have been. The Senate largely conceded his guilt while voting to let him off. Trump celebrates as if he’d won something when he's lost nearly everything. And Democrats fail to conduct the full and thorough investigation they promised. The upside is that it was all over quickly.


Reader feedback.

There was a ton of feedback to my issue last week about China. I wanted to highlight a few bullet points here, and then share a document where I collected more of the feedback that you can read an expanded version of if you’d like.

  • Several Asian-American readers wrote in to ask that I cover and discuss the recent spike in hate crimes against Asians and Asian-Americans, especially Chinese people. Ann from California said that “tough rhetoric on the CCP in the West is sadly typically accompanied by racist sentiments and actions to Chinese people, and beyond that, Asian people, since there is usually a poor public understanding of the differences in Asian cultures and ethnicities.”
  • One reader, who asked to remain anonymous, said the newsletter lacked the Chinese argument, which usually sounds like: “If it is okay for America — a country far smaller than China — to incarcerate millions of Black Americans on trivial charges, why isn’t it okay [for] China to send (at most) a million radicalized Chinese to rehabilitation centers? If it is okay for American police to shoot 1,000 Americans dead every year, why are people complaining about Chinese police, who don’t kill anyone?” This argument is disingenuous, they said, but it’s worth preparing Americans for this kind of whataboutism.
  • Faye from Brooklyn, New York, who has lived and traveled throughout China, pushed back on the newsletter, saying it lacked Tangle’s typical nuance and was “shaped entirely by what's been reported in the Western, pro-war, pro-U.S. mainstream media.” Specifically, she made the case that any real change in China “has to come from within, not from U.S. meddling or U.S.-led interventions… We need to actively decouple the Xinjiang issue from the pursuit of Western interests in Asia”

All of these readers had a lot more to say, and I felt their feedback was so worthwhile I put it in a Google doc that you can read by clicking below.

Read the feedback


A story that matters.

The use of facial recognition tools is becoming a more popular solution for law enforcement. But a battle over how and when those tools should be used is brewing, too. Right now, there is no clear federal regulation over companies that are selling images of the Capitol protesters. Some cities have already banned police from using facial recognition software tools, citing the fact these tools are less accurate on non-white faces. Nevertheless, their use is spreading, and while some cities are banning them, the firms behind this technology say the demand for their products is at an all-time high. Axios’s Bryan Walsh has the story.


Numbers.

  • 1,293. The number of Tangle readers who responded to last week’s poll about how to move forward with this section.
  • 59.8%. The percentage of Tangle readers who voted to preserve the section as it looks today.
  • 36%. The percentage of Americans who identify as conservative, according to a Gallup poll of 18,398 adults.
  • 35%. The percentage of Americans who identify as moderate, according to a Gallup poll of 18,398 adults.
  • 25%. The percentage of Americans who identify as liberal, according to a Gallup poll of 18,398 adults.
  • 67%. The percentage of Americans who support a $15 minimum wage, according to a 2019 poll from Pew of 1,503 adults.
  • 58%. The percentage of Americans who believe President Trump should have been convicted in his impeachment trial, according to an Ipsos poll of 547 adults.
  • 14%. The percentage of Republicans who believe President Trump should have been convicted in his impeachment trial, according to an Ipsos poll of 547 adults.

Did you know…

Today, I was reading two rival political newsletters. I won’t name them, but both had the exact same advertisement from Amazon that was calling for a minimum wage increase to $15. This kind of sponsored content, on a deeply political issue across two political newsletters, is exactly why I set out to keep Tangle ad-free. I believe the independence of this newsletter makes it special. But it also means I need your help — if you’re not yet a subscriber, please consider becoming one.

Subscribe now


Have a nice day.

The vaccination push in the U.S. is picking up steam. 70 million doses have now been delivered, with 52.8 million administered across the U.S. 38 million Americans have received a single dose or more, and over 14 million are fully vaccinated. At the same time, the 7-day rolling average of daily new U.S. cases fell below 100,000 for the first time since November 4th. The coronavirus is still spreading rapidly, and experts caution that measures to slow the spread should stay in place, but cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all plummeting while vaccinations are ramping up, giving new hope that this summer may see the end of the pandemic in America.

Comments

Only paid subscribers can comment.
Please subscribe or sign in to join the conversation.

Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.