With the focus of impeachment over, we are back to news cycles that feel scattershot. Today’s many stories added up to an angry and badly spooked president.
First of all, Trump feels vindicated by the Senate’s refusal to convict him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and is taking a victory lap. But it is not the victory lap of a leader who feels so secure in his win that he can afford to be magnanimous. At this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast, designed to bring politicians and religious leaders together in a shared faith, the featured speaker, conservative columnist Arthur Brooks, reminded the bipartisan audience to “love your enemies” and put aside anger, sarcasm, and derision with love, and to “ask God to take political contempt from your heart.” When Trump took the microphone, he said “I don’t know if I agree with you. I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I’m going to say.” He then attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was sitting nearby, disparaging the idea she prays for him, and jabbed at Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who voted in favor of his conviction on the article of impeachment that charged him with abuse of power.
Then, for more than an hour this afternoon in the East Room of the White House, Trump unloaded on his perceived enemies. “This is a day of celebration because we went through hell,” he said. The July 25 phone call between him and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect,” and he was now totally acquitted. Impeachment was “a phony, rotten deal” thought up by “very evil and sick people.” Every Democrat who voted for it was “vicious as hell.” “It was evil. It was corrupt. It was dirty cops. It was leakers and liars.” The only people to whom he apologized were his family, apologizing that “some very evil and very sick people” put them through a “phony, rotten” ordeal. Of the Russia investigation, he announced, “It’s all bullshit.”
There was an unexpected and unfortunate outcome of the Senate impeachment trial. With his lawyer arguing Trump could pretty much do whatever he wishes, and the Senate signing on to that, Trump clearly feels no constraints. The Trump White House is openly retaliating against the president’s perceived enemies. Most notably, news broke tonight that Trump intends to punish Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide who testified against Trump during the impeachment hearings, by forcing him out of the White House.
As was expected, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who joined the Democrats to vote yes on the impeachment article accusing Trump of abuse of power, bore the brunt of Trump supporters’ hatred today. On the Fox News Channel, Brian Kilmeade attacked Romney for saying he had followed his faith to vote yes. “’My faith makes me do this’? Are you kidding? What about your faith and this case meld together? That is unbelievable for him to bring religion into this. ‘His faith.’” (Remember, these are people who have claimed that a person’s faith means they do not have to follow laws.)
More direct, Trump tweeted out a video attacking Romney as the “Democrats’ secret asset” who was only “posing as a Republican.” Romney, of course, was the 2012 Republican candidate for president, and is the son of George Romney, former Governor of Michigan and a Republican leader in the last generation. As a Utah senator, he has voted with Trump 80% of the time. But now, because of his vote against Trump on one article of impeachment, he is suddenly a Democrat. Across Twitter and the Fox News Channel, attacks on Romney were non-stop.
The fact Trump’s people felt it necessary to slam Romney, and to make and then send out the video suggests they are nervous. Romney is garnering praise for his principled stand, with the Washington Post, and the Utah Salt Lake Tribune, among others, saluting his “profile in courage.” And, we learned today, nationally, 60% of American women disapprove of Trump while only 38% approve. We also heard that the Fox News Channel’s research unit warned presenters against taking the top commentators’ claims about Ukraine at face value. Contributor John Solomon (who wrote articles for The Hill attacking Marie Yovanovitch), Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and Trump lawyers Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova are, the unit warned, “spreading disinformation.”
The vicious attacks on Romney are a desperate attempt to warn other Republicans of what will happen if they, too, jump ship. It smacks of fear, which strikes me as an interesting emotion just as Trump should be feeling at his strongest. Perhaps he has some idea of the news that will be dropping in the coming weeks.
Or perhaps he is afraid of women like popular former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was chased out of Ukraine by Giuliani and his henchmen as she tried to battle corruption and defend democracy. In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, she took on Trump and his enablers, saying, “I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened with punishment or death. We must not allow the United States to become a country where standing up to our government is a dangerous act.” With sentiments that Senator Romney might appreciate, she said, “It has been shocking to experience the storm of criticism, lies and malicious conspiracies that have preceded and followed my public testimony, but I have no regrets. I did — we did — what our conscience called us to do. We did what the gift of U.S. citizenship requires us to do.”
Ambassador Yovanovitch reflected that it is time to defend our democratic institutions at home. "These are turbulent times, perhaps the most challenging that I have witnessed," wrote the woman who served our country in war zones. "But... like my parents before me, I remain optimistic about our future. The events of the past year, while deeply disturbing, show that even though our institutions and our fellow citizens are being challenged in ways that few of us ever expected, we will endure, we will persist and we will prevail."
Salt Lake Tribune: https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/editorial/2020/02/05/tribune-editorial-mitt/
FNC and disinformation: https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/fox-news-internal-ukraine-briefing-book
Ukraine arms sales: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/christopherm51/ukraine-us-arms-sales