Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author, with Peter Eisner, of the book “High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
This is how the reign of a deranged president named Donald Trump ends – and it feels as if it was inevitable.
As a mob undoubtedly encouraged by the President breached police lines and entered the Capitol, Trump’s toxic rhetoric – the conspiracy theories, the hate mongering, the profanity – finally reached its inevitable outcome. Inside the House and Senate chambers more than 100 Republicans planned to turn a routine ceremony of democracy into a farce, by objecting to the counting of Electoral College votes.
For all the Republican officials who thought they could manage Trump, his final days are producing a tragic display that proves just how wrong they have been. This fact was evident in the words, and the face of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who seemed grave and even sorrowful as he all but begged his GOP colleagues to abandon their effort to subvert the election.
“Voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken — they’ve all spoken,” McConnell said. “If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.” He added, “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept the election again.”
As McConnell spoke, sounding genuinely frightened for the future of the nation, one couldn’t help but think of the years he spent enabling Trump and tolerating the abusive rhetoric the President directed at his own colleagues. The Senate leader happily counted the growing number of conservative judges Trump appointed to federal courts and generally kept his mouth shut. If he was surprised by the chaos that finally came spilling into his scared Capitol building, he hasn’t been paying attention.
Over in the House of Representative, Vice President Mike Pence looked like a haggard, aged and exhausted specter as he removed his anti-virus facemask to address Congress. For days Trump had pressured him to do something to overturn the election which, one should note, Joe Biden won by more than 7 million votes. He continued it on the morning of the vote count as he addressed a crowd at his so-called “Save America” rally, which he had summoned for a “wild” day of protest.
“If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election,” said Trump. “All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify.” He also told the crowd “We will never give up. We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.”
It should not be lost that Pence was called upon by the Constitution only to perform a ministerial role, helping the gathered senators and members of Congress formally accept reports from the 50 states. The vice president acknowledged as much in a statement published earlier on in the day. Although hardly a ringing statement of political courage, Pence’s statement did reject Trump’s harebrained notion that he was in control of the election outcome. He called his job “largely ceremonial” and said it did not grant the power Trump imagined it did.
Pence could and did permit objections which, when offered by at least one representative and one senator, would lead to debate. This happened when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona challenged the count sent by Arizona. As the law requires, the two chambers then convened separately to debate.
The objectors were raising concerns that had been settled by the scores of judges who rejected pro-Trump claims of fraud and by the 50 states that certified the election result. Indeed, throughout the long-running process no evidence of fraud arose and even former Attorney General William Barr, a true loyalist, said so.
Nevertheless, Trump has repeatedly declared the election was rigged and demanded action. At one point, his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn mused about using the military to intervene on Trump’s behalf.
For four years, Americans have endured Trump’s violent rhetoric, his heedless distribution of conspiracy theories and incompetence proven by the mismanagement of a pandemic that has claimed more than 350,000 lives in the US. He was able to persist in all of this because fellow Republicans, frightened by him and his ever-more rabid following, lacked the courage to stand against him and in favor of decency and democracy.
As the mob careens around the Capitol and lawmakers huddle together in a secret and secure facility, it’s obvious that the likes of McConnell and Pence are far too late with the little display of opposition they mustered on the darkest day that hallowed building has ever seen.