U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) made a prescient statement in August 2016 during his re-election campaign against Democrat Jason Kander. "I think I could be the 51st Republican in the Senate," Blunt said, in the Springfield News-Leader. "And every voter that cares about the courts, that cares about what would happen if either Secretary [Hillary] Clinton or Donald Trump is president, there are lots of reasons to think about why you would want a Republican Senate in all of those circumstances."
What a stunning comment in retrospect. Blunt, already fed up with defending Trump over insults to a Gold Star family and other political atrocities, had lumped his own party's presidential nominee with Clinton as threats to the nation. And this was just 26 days after Trump won the nomination.
Blunt could have been that 51st Republican last week. He could have been the one with the moral courage — actually, just the integrity — to ensure the U.S. Senate upheld its duty to country and Constitution by holding a serious impeachment trial. Forget disgraced Senator Lamar Alexander, he of the "well, the Democrats proved their case that Trump shook down Ukraine for personal gain, but so what?" excuse. Blunt, a respected leader among his peers, could have brought along some colleagues on the witness issue had he done the right thing.
Instead, Blunt joined 50 of his Republican colleagues in voting not even to consider the consideration of first-hand evidence, pro or con, regarding the allegations against Trump. The Republican Senate which Blunt promised would protect the nation from Clinton or Trump instead betrayed it. It was a cover up that made Watergate look transparent.
Republicans likely would have escaped politically by pondering the first-hand evidence, as we know it, then deciding not to remove Trump. Their fear, however, was of the unknown. If former National Security Advisor John Bolton (or even Lev Parnas) had too much new information, a legislative jailbreak might have ensued as happened to Nixon.
This was not an acquittal of Trump. It was a decision to replace a trial with an orchestrated political symphony conducted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Moscow Mitch made good on his historic public promise December 12 that the Senate would maintain "total coordination with the White House counsel" for the stated goal of killing impeachment. He's one formidable grim reaper.
Barring a miracle, the Republicans will grant Trump a get-out-of-jail-free card, one that will validate his terrifying, perverse proclamation that "I have an Article 2 where I can do whatever I want as president." He first uttered that foulness last July 23 at a student action summit, two days before his infamous shakedown call with Ukraine's president.
Trump continues to spew authoritarian rhetoric at his fascist rallies, with no end in sight. Today isn't the day that democracy died in America. But it truly might mark the beginning of an unrestrainable march to dictatorship.
Trump has used his Twitter platform of 72 million followers — magnified exponentially by news coverage — to slander political foes, Republican defectors and media as "disloyal," "human scum," "traitors," "spies" and "enemies of the people." Worse yet, the vile, xenophobic rhetoric has been delivered with the cadence and hatred of an autocrat.
With the "Dershowitz Doctrine" snugly in hand, Trump could act upon those "lock her up!" chants targeting political opponents or "fake news" media. He'd merely need to have decided it was best for himself, and thus the nation. Trump won't impose tyranny before the November 3 election, although he'd obviously be delighted to have foreign pals help him cheat to win.
But it's anyone's guess what might happen after a re-election.
It's depressing that all this treachery can be rationalized by the party of Abraham Lincoln just because members love their tax cuts, judicial appointments and the deregulatory freedom to have their way with Mother Nature.
The road ahead is uncharted territory. The forecast isn't sunny, not with the aggregation of narcissistic personality disorder, criminality, bigotry and unparalleled power residing within one twisted individual.
If the nation wants to ponder how it got here, Missouri might be the show-me state for that.
We have two Republican senators, one a decent man, the other not so much.
Blunt has served faithfully for a good while. I endorsed him in this space twice as Republican candidate for Missouri secretary of state in 1984 and 1988, and he did a fine job back in the days when every matter wasn't crassly partisan. Blunt's career in Congress was meteoric, in both chambers, spanning a quarter century. His politics are awful, in this view, but not his intentions.
On the other hand, there's Josh Hawley, the youngest member of the U.S. Senate and arguably its most dangerous. Missourians are mostly oblivious to this, because in sharp contrast to Blunt, he did so little in his state career that he's a mystery in his home state. Hawley's two years as state attorney general were marked mostly by his disdain for coming to work in his first year and his absence while he ran for Senate in the second. Little of note happened, save jumping on the pile against disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens and some political theater such as joining the national legal attack on Obamacare.
In contrast, Hawley has become an unbelievable juggernaut in the Senate. In barely more than a year as a freshman, he has already been dubbed "the thirstiest man in Washington D.C." by Esquire magazine, stampeding toward any and every camera. Hawley is everywhere, ferociously battling tech giants on all subjects but Russian interference in our elections. That one gets a pass from our techno-Goliath slayer.
Hawley holds forth on all matters headline-grabbing, if helpful to Trump. Did you know the sexual revolution of the '60s is the culprit for sex-trafficking 60 years later? That's a good one, dovetailing nicely with his longstanding abhorrence of LGBTQ rights.
Hawley, a banker's son educated at a private high school, Stanford and Yale, portrays himself as a farm boy challenging the "coastal elites." The stew of high intellect and low principle is ghastly.
Corollary to this demagoguery, Hawley injects anti-Semitic tropes about rootless "cosmopolitans." That provides him victimhood from the "liberal thought police" for pushing back at the very moment a host of Nazi websites extol him as their great white hope for 2024. Not one of Hawley's 3,460 tweets has disavowed any of that.
Blunt and Hawley do have one fascinating connection: A couple of weeks ago, Hawley hammered away on Twitter about the horror of social media giants spending half a billion dollars on lobbyists. Funny thing: Two of the three Blunt children who are professional lobbyists — Andy and Amy — are registered lobbyists in Missouri for Facebook. Small world.
So, Missouri is the test-tube case for Republicans. Does Roy Blunt, at 70, somehow get his moral compass to find True North again? Or does Hawley, at 40, lick Trump's boots loyally enough to become positioned to carry on his dirty legacy, should Trump ever be willing to vacate the presidency? If Republicans keep control of the Senate, and Democrats don't get their act together presidentially, Missouri's senators will be worth watching.
Here's hoping if Roy Blunt has another opportunity to be that 51st Republican vote, he doesn't let America down again.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or catch him on St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).