WASHINGTON—Towards the end of his arguments Thursday night about why the U.S. Senate should convict President Donald Trump, Rep. Adam Schiff said, “You know you can’t count on him. None of us can.”
But Friday afternoon, the National Mall was filled with people who believe they can count on Trump: demonstrators at the annual March for Life rally advocating an end to legal abortion. In the crowd of tens of thousands, “I Vote Pro-Life First” signs waved side-by-side with “Trump 2020” banners as Trump became the first president to attend the massive annual rally. Women carrying signs saying “I regret my abortion,” marched beside young men carrying flags depicting the president standing atop a tank, and groups of high school students wore red “Make America Great Again” caps.
“I wanted to be in this very important March for Life for the protection of the unborn. And especially because I know the President Trump is going to be here, so that’s even a bigger incentive,” said Carmen de Perignon of Maryland. “It’s a huge deal. We’re very happy that he’s here.”
He won their allegiance not just by showing up, but by moving them closer to their long-held dream of seeing the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States overturned. “I think the more conservative justices that our president gets seated, the better it’s going to be,” said Kevin Hain from Delaware, who wore Trump paraphernalia and carried an “I am the Pro-Life Generation” sign.
In addressing the rally, Trump made much of his own 187 judicial appointments, saying, “Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House.”
Key among his appointments are Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who may have swung the balance of the court towards outlawing abortion before it hears arguments in an abortion case this March. The change in the court’s ideological composition was made possible, in large part, by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s openly partisan refusal to allow confirmation hearings in 2016 on president Barack Obama’s chosen appointee. That’s the same majority leader who is now accused of speeding to a predetermined verdict in Trump’s impeachment trial.
And what about that trial, which was just reconvening in the Capitol building at the end of the mall as the rally was underway?
“This is all a farce. It’s a shame that we’ve had politicians for years not do anything better for our country and try to unseat a duly elected official, regardless of party. It’s been a supreme waste of money and time,” Hain said.
That vocal support for the president was also on display Monday at a gun-rights rally in Virginia. There, thousands of marchers, many of them heavily armed, heard appeals to re-elect Trump in November and to never forgive the “party of Nancy Pelosi.”
Trump has held inconsistent positions on both abortion and gun control — he declared himself “pro-choice in every respect” in the 1990s and has expressed support for banning some types of firearms — leading to charges of political opportunism when he adopted more conservative positions while running for office. But his vocal support, and his actions as president, have secured him a cultlike devotion among these motivated voting blocks, making support for him synonymous with support for their causes.
This is a key part of the political backdrop to the Senate trial that continues in the Capitol building.
On Friday, Democratic House representatives concluded their opening presentation, arguing that the president had obstructed Congress and abused the power of his office.
“President Trump tried to cheat, he got caught, and then he worked hard to cover it up,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries told the Senate.
Taking up the argument, Rep. Val Demings outlined what she called Trump’s “blanket order” directing the executive branch to refuse to provide any documents or testimony to congressional attempts to investigate him. She said it was “historically unprecedented,” and threatened the “heart of our constitutional system of government” — the checks and balances that the U.S. federal government’s three branches provide each other.
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The outcome is widely thought to be predetermined, with the Republican majority having more or less indicated before the trial began that it would quickly acquit Trump. The Democratic team arguing for Trump’s removal from office has been making its presentation as much for the general voting public as for the senators who make up his jury.
But the people who were out marching this week provide some insight into why Republicans may be approaching the case as they have. While the Democrats make high-minded appeals to constitutional principles and the judgment of history, the judgment of cultural conservative activists is already in. They view Trump as a significant ally — one they know they can count on — who is being unfairly targeted, perhaps because of his association with them. They follow Trump’s lead, and Republicans in both houses of Congress follow theirs.