Less than 24 hours after formally being acquitted by the Senate, President Donald Trump riffed for over an hour from inside the White House – a vengeful, angry, fact-challenged spew of score-settling that even for this most unorthodox of presidents was eye-opening in its tone and jaw-dropping in its boundary busting.
“It’s a celebration,” Trump said of the event, attended by a “who’s who” of Republican politics, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, as well as the President’s Cabinet and the legal team that defended him in the Senate trial.
But it didn’t feel like one, as Trump spent the bulk of his stream-of-consciousness “speech” savaging his various enemies, which included, well, almost everyone not in the room.
“It was evil, it was corrupt,” Trump said of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which concluded that the Russians sought to actively interfere to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.
“We caught ‘em in the act … dirty cops, bad people,” Trump said of, well, something.
“We went through Russia, Russia, Russia … and it was all bullshit,” Trump said.
“Little did we know we were running against some bad and evil people,” Trump said.
“A man who got James Comey to choke – and he was just talking in his regular voice,” Trump said of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. (Trump went on to call Comey, the former FBI director, a “sleazebag.”)
“There were some that used religion as a crutch. … A failed presidential candidate so things can happen when you fail so badly running for president,” Trump said of Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted to convict Trump on abuse of power.
“A guy who can’t stand the fact that he ran one of the worst campaign in the history of the country,” Trump added on Romney.
“Two low-lifes,” Trump said of former FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.
*Adam Schiff is a vicious horrible person,” Trump said of the California Democrat.
“Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person. … I doubt she prays at all,” Trump said of the Speaker of the House.
“They want to destroy our country,” Trump said of Democrats.
“Top scum,” Trump said of the FBI leadership.
And on and on and on it went. Trump attacking opponents. Trump belittling members of his own party. Trump outright lying about what he has done (and hasn’t) as President.
It was Trump on steroids. Trump unbound. Trump giving no, well, you know.
All of which was frankly incredible to watch. But the worst part of it all had nothing to do with Trump. Instead, it was the audience who egged him on, laughed at his jokes and applauded his appalling lack of human decency.
It felt like watching a bully beat up a helpless kid. Sure, the bully is to blame. But the crowd of people surrounding the beating and either cheering or doing nothing at all are far worse.
Trump is Trump. While he stepped beyond where has gone before in many respects during Thursday’s “celebration,” it hard to say that no one saw this coming.
But the complicity of those in attendance – the most powerful people within the Republican Party – is what was truly astounding. Yes, the Republican Party threw in its lot with Trump (and his forced takeover of it) long ago. But to sit by or even celebrate while Trump used the White House as a combination of a campaign venue, or a bathroom wall on which to write his darkest thoughts about those who oppose him, was beyond unforgivable.
Consider Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. After Trump suggested that Romney was faking his religiosity and its influence on his decision to convict and suggested – with zero proof – that Romney’s polling numbers had flagged as a result, Lee stood up to accept Trump’s congratulations. “We can say Mike Lee is by far the most popular senator from Utah,” Trump said as Lee rose.
Seriously? Does Mike Lee actually believe that his Utah colleague was using religion as a “crutch” to justify a vote against Trump? And that the real reason Romney voted to convict on the abuse of power charge is because “things can happen when you fail so badly running for president?”
Does McConnell believe that? Does McCarthy think that Pelosi actually doesn’t pray at all? Or that Democrats want to “destroy” our country? Or that the leadership of the FBI is “top scum?” Or that the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was “evil” and “corrupt?”
I can’t believe that they do. And if they don’t, then something far worse is at play here. They are willing to suspend their principles and beliefs and acquiesce to Trump’s wild claims solely because it is good for their own personal politics. That taking a stand against Trump’s absolute smashing of presidential norms isn’t worth the political pain it might cause them.
That was the worst part of watching Trump on Thursday. That every single person in that room smiled and laughed and, uh, celebrated, as though what Trump was saying was even close to normal behavior. It wasn’t. None of it.