Trump's Post-Impeachment Victory Lap
If God was anywhere in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, it may have been at the Washington Hilton, where lawmakers from both sides had gathered for the National Prayer Breakfast. It was a morning of quiet reflection and humble worship in a city consumed by ego and partisan strife.
Arthur Brooks delivered the sermon, and the conservative scholar begged the political congregation to take seriously “a national crisis of contempt and polarization.” He asked for a show of hands to make it personal: “How many of you love somebody with whom you disagree politically?”
Almost everyone raised their hands. President Trump, seated on stage and waiting to make his keynote address moments later, did not. “I’m going to round that off to 100 percent,” Brooks nervously quipped, suggesting that “the rest of you must be on your phones.”
Trump was not on his phone. He certainly was not distracted, either. Instead, the president was grinning. While Brooks hoped that the day would mark the “beginning of our national healing,” for Trump it was the equivalent of V-E Day.
Acquitted on impeachment charges the night before, Trump took two victory laps, one in the ballroom and another in an address at the White House. Love your enemies? He made them run the gauntlet.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” he said, and everyone knew he was talking about Sen. Mitt Romney, who told reporters that his religious faith compelled him to consider impeachment through the prism of the oath of office he took to defend the Constitution. “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so,” Trump continued, referring to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was sitting just two seats away and who had ripped up his State of the Union address on prime-time television two nights before.
“So many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go on,” the president said, making clear that atonement for impeachment would only come for his enemies after their public humiliation.
The president did express gratitude to the assembled faith leaders “for the love they show to religion, not one religion but many. They're brave, they are brilliant, and they are fighters.” His administration, he reminded the congregation, has fought for religious freedom.
But even the faithful stumble, he admitted -- “sometimes [they] hate people.”
This might have been too much for a morning meant for worshiping a God who commands his followers to love their enemies. “I am sorry, I apologize,” the president said in an off-script moment of rare introspection. “I am trying to learn. It’s not easy. It’s not easy, when they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them. I do my best.”
But Trump was triumphant, and before speaking a word, he held aloft the front pages of both USA Today and the Washington Post. The headlines that the crowd read were the same: “Acquitted.” After the last amen at the prayer breakfast, the president took those papers with him back to the White House and left behind any reservations.
“This is really not a news conference, it’s not a speech. It’s not anything,” Trump told assembled lawmakers in the East Room just hours later. “It’s just, we’re sort of, it’s a celebration because we have something that just worked out."
The president said his first term was marked by tribulation, a “witch hunt” that he doubted other presidents could have endured. His enemies had been plotting his destruction from the moment he declared his candidacy in 2015, “the day we came down the elevator.” James Comey, the former FBI director who secretly recorded conversations with the president, and the special counsel team were all “dirty cops.”
The ensuing legal drama was the work of “leakers and liars.” His White House was treated “unbelievably unfairly,” and the combined attempt to remove him from office early was “evil.” He endured “Russia-Russia-Russia" for three years and “it was all bullshit.”
Indignation and applause naturally followed.
Indignation that a president would use the National Prayer Breakfast to do anything other than offer an olive branch to enemies who tried to end him.
“We saw a president incapable of earnest reflection, incapable of viewing the moment as one for service rather than self-aggrandizement. He could have offered a worthwhile reflection on what it means to pray together in the midst of such political conflict,” said Michael Wear, who was charged with directing faith outreach in the Obama administration.
Applause at the fact that the president had survived just the third impeachment attempt in the history of the country. But it was not that Trump did not try to love his enemies, or at least get to know them, explained Jason Miller. A senior advisor during the last campaign, Miller said that Trump had tried courting Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer -- but that his efforts had availed him nothing.
Reconciliation, then, would be out of order. “There is a realization for many Trump supporters that we may have stopped the Democratic Party zombie for now, but it is going to come back to life,” Miller said, “and it is never going to stop trying to defeat Donald Trump so long as he is in office.”
Democrats have failed in their attempts to remove him. Trump made clear that, if anything, they succeeded only in hardening his heart. He isn’t a perfect person, he conceded to his supporters at the White House: “I’ve done things wrong in life, I will admit.” But allegedly asking a foreign power to investigate a potential political rival was not one of those transgressions. “We went through hell, unfairly. Did nothing wrong,” Trump said.
The president did offer one apology, of sorts. Triumphant at the White House, he apologized to his family for having to endure "a phony, rotten deal by some very sick, evil people."