Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr

On Monday, after I saw Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed rules for the impeachment trial, I sat with that information for about five hours. Then I wrote a piece for my subscribers called “Mitch McConnell is Weak and Stupid.” My basic point was that if McConnell was correct when he told Sean Hannity that there was “zero chance” that Donald Trump would be convicted and removed from office, then the real battle is over whether that outcome is accepted by the American public. From that perspective, it would make the most sense to bend over backward to make the process look fair.

But McConnell took the opposite approach. Either this is a dumb political decision, or McConnell is afraid that the evidence against the president is so strong that his caucus would find it very difficult to acquit him if it were presented at the trial.

But I should have thought about it for just a little bit longer. It may not be that McConnell is primarily worried that his caucus will defect and find the president guilty, but that the process would destroy his Senate majority. This would be for two reasons.

First, and most obviously, if the evidence is overwhelming and the president is still found not guilty, the Trump-supporting senators who are up for reelection in 2020 will be very vulnerable to defeat. This might include some folks who are considered very safe at the moment.

Second, the damage to Trump would be severe and present a huge problem for the party because they plan on renominating him and having him run at the top of their ticket. They need to sing his praises all year long, and you can imagine how painful it would be to hold the Republican National Convention in an environment where everyone is constantly being asked how they can be celebrating an obvious criminal who the American people want to be removed from office for abuse of power and contempt of Congress.

For McConnell, the best option is to limit the evidence even if the process is seen as illegitimate. He’s going to take a big hit either way, but protecting Trump from the truth is preferable to giving the impression that there was a full and fair trial.

I’m still not sure how solidly McConnell has this sewn up. He could wind up with the worst of both worlds if he can’t prevent witnesses, and yet the trial is still seen as a clear scam on the American people.

But I think people need to focus a bit more on the fact that this trial isn’t just about winning an acquittal for Trump, but also about keeping him minimally viable as the Republican presidential nominee.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at