If you thought that the impeachment of the leader of the Republican party would be a tough sell for conservative media, you haven’t been paying attention. Yesterday’s historic vote has been used in much the same way as almost any other news event during the last three years: as an opportunity to attack perceived enemies, and to explain why this is actually good for Trump.
The main line of attack was accusations of insufficient seriousness on the part of Democrats and members of the hated mainstream media (“MSM”). After the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, repeatedly said that impeachment was a “solemn occasion”, outlets went looking for any sign that someone might be enjoying themselves.
Late Wednesday night, a Washington Post reporter snapped a photo of smiling colleagues in a bar, and tweeted it out with the caption, “Merry Impeachmas from the WaPo team!” The sight of employees from one of the president’s bêtes noires appearing to celebrate the vote was enough to see the tweet ratioed by conservative Twitter users, and then deleted.
Liberal celebrities are reliable punching bags in rightwing media, and they too were accused of unseemly glee. A Gateway Pundit article embedded selected tweets from “limousine liberals”; Breitbart castigated the “gloating” of “A slew of far-left celebrities including Rob Reiner, Alyssa Milano, and Michael Moore”.
Legislators, too, were accused of yukking it up at a grave moment. Representative Rashida Tlaib, who once vowed in reference to the president that Democrats would “impeach the motherfucker”, was accused by the Free Beacon of smiling on her way to the chamber. Paula Boyard in PJ Media was one of the reporters who zeroed in on Nancy Pelosi shushing an allegedly exuberant caucus.
But rightwingers did not universally condemn the Democratic caucus. Indeed they found a hero in Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who voted “present” on impeachment, withholding her consent.
A glowing piece by David Kamioner in Lifezette described Gabbard’s move as a “smart gamble”. Breitbart called her “defiant” and lauded her “willingness to challenge the Democrat party’s foreign policy status quo”. The Daily Caller ran a brace of items on Gabbard, a frequent guest on site founder Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, one featuring video of an interview in which she claimed to be standing up for the center, and another on the “attack” on Gabbard from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But whatever Democrats may have thought they were doing, others explained, by impeaching Trump they had actually signed their own death warrant.
The Federalist, for example, hosted several variations on the claim that for Democrats, impeachment was a historic blunder. Christopher Bedford didn’t distract his readers with much evidence in asserting that impeachment was a “massive blunder”; David Marcus insisted that no one outside the Beltway had paid any attention; Mollie Hemingway proffered a listicle which she said demonstrated that Trump’s impeachment was “the weakest in US history” (presumably this means that at worst, it came third).
Even they were not as bold as RT’s Nebojsa Malic who, in a piece later dutifully reposted at Infowars, argued that Democrats had made Trump “more powerful than they could ever imagine”.
Bigger guns also said their predictable pieces. On his radio show and in a tweetstorm, Mark Levin repeated his oft-made claim that the whole thing was unconstitutional. Tucker Carlson opened his take with familiar claims that the president had not broken the law, and then pushed on into a claim that it was a distraction from a spending bill which (horrors) would include initiatives aimed at refugees and gun violence.
Unsurprisingly in a country which is on parallel epistemological tracks, very few rightwing commentators allowed that the Democrats had made a decent case.
Matt Drudge, who has recently strayed somewhat from the pro-Trump herd, at least linked to a story which acknowledged this divide. National Review ran a fence-sitting editorial, but then gave space to Ramesh Ponnuru, who argued that the Dems had met every reasonable test on the way to their decision.
But overall, a careful and rigorous impeachment process appears to have changed few minds. Conservative media are working to ensure that its aftermath doesn’t either.