Anyone who watched the back-to-back presentations of the House impeachment managers and former President Donald Trump’s legal team on the first day of the Senate impeachment trial could see that this was a massive mismatch.
On the one hand, you had the impeachment managers making a compelling — and moving — case about the riot at the US Capitol on January 6 and the fact that, but for a few lucky breaks and brave people, it could have been much, much worse.
On the other, you had Trump lawyer Bruce Castor telling stories about hearing Everett Dirksen’s “phenomenal” voice on an old record his parents played for him. (Yes, that actually happened.)
It was like watching an NBA team play my junior high school basketball squad. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and you have no doubt about the superior team.
And yet, when it came time for the senators to vote on whether it was constitutional to impeach a former president, it was clear that almost nothing had changed from the previous test vote on the constitutional question last month. Note that I said “almost nothing.” Because unlike the January vote, there were six Republican senators rather than five who voted that the trial was covered by the Constitution. Who was the new arrival? Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy.
Here’s how Cassidy explained his decision to switch sides:
“The House managers were focused, they were organized … they made a compelling argument. President Trump’s team, they were disorganized. … One side is doing a great job and the other side is doing a terrible job. … As an impartial juror, I’m going to vote for the side that did the good job.”
Which, well, duh.
Like I said, it is virtually impossible for any objective person (or juror) to have listened to the arguments by the two sides and think: Yeah, the Trump side really drove home the unconstitutional argument.
The other five Republicans who voted with Democrats on Tuesday were: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
But why was Cassidy the only one who actually changed his vote?
Simple: He’s not up for reelection for another five years, so he could actually vote his conscience.
Cassidy was elected to a second term last November with almost 60% of the vote in a four-way race. He’s not up for another term until 2026 and he’s sitting on more than $1.6 million left over from his 2020 race. Cassidy, of course, knew that his vote would stir up the pro-Trump forces in his state. And stir them up he did!
The Republican Party of Louisiana said it was “profoundly disappointed” in Cassidy’s vote. Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson, who is helping out the Trump legal team behind the scenes, told CNN that he was “surprised” by Cassidy’s vote and that “a lot of people from back home are calling me about it right now.”
And you can probably bet that Johnson, in the coming days, will make some statement about how a lot of people back in Louisiana are unhappy with Cassidy’s vote and are calling to encourage him to run against the senator in a primary.
But here’s the thing: That primary is in 2026! That’s a long way off in normal time and eons in political time. Cassidy is betting that by the time his next reelection race rolls around, voters will have either forgotten entirely about this vote or that Trump and his legacy within the party will look very different than it does today. (And even if the party remains Trump-centric, Cassidy will point to his 89.1% Trump score as evidence that he was with the ex-President most of the time.)
And so, yes, Cassidy took a step out on a limb that none of his other Republican colleagues (other than the aforementioned five) were willing to go. But he did so not because Trump’s power over the party has been reduced. he did so because he’s as insulated from Trump’s vengeance as any member of Congress can be right now.
It’s always the politics.