Gail Collins: Donald Trump vs. George Washington

(Senate Television via AP) In this image from video, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

Wow, Adam Schiff did a great job in Marathon Impeachment.

Schiff, one of the managers the House sent to handle the impeachment trial in the Senate, has been the rock star of the proceedings. (OK, suggesting this is a rocking experience would be ... overstatement. But you get the idea.)

On Wednesday, Schiff spoke for nearly 2 1/2 hours, nonstop, to open the Democrats’ case. Not a record, but really long, even for a politician. Donald Trump took up just a little over two hours at his impeachment-day rally, when he had enough time to suggest that the late Rep. John Dingell went to hell and to call Schiff “not exactly the best-looking guy we’ve ever seen.”

Schiff’s mission was to take the Senate — and better yet, the American public — through Trump’s impeachable behavior, step by step. It’s certainly an action-packed story, and the Democrats have the advantage of audiovisual aids. So much easier to keep the audience’s interest when you’ve got the title character on tape, saying stuff like, “I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Schiff elevated the saga with a lot of American history. He mentioned the Founding Fathers 28 times in the first 15 minutes. On this front, it doesn’t seem as if he’s going to get much competition. Earlier, when Republicans had a chance to talk, the founders only came up a handful of times, once in a quote from Chuck Schumer.

For much of our modern history Republicans have tended to be the ones continually quoting the Founding Fathers, usually in regard to the dangers of an over-powerful federal government. Now the tables have turned. Clearly Mitch McConnell and his minions need to come up with some early American heroes who wouldn’t have seen a problem with a president who tries to make secret deals with a foreign power in order to enhance his chances for reelection.

On Wednesday, Schiff concluded with references to George Washington crossing the Delaware, Thomas Paine, Washington’s farewell address and Benjamin Franklin announcing our government would be “a republic, if you can keep it.”

Other Democrats then picked up the story, and they’ll be doing it for quite a while. Senate Majority Leader McConnell was originally going to make everybody cram the 24-hour quota of speeches into two days, but the Democrats have now been given three days to make their case on a more reasonable schedule. The change was allegedly a result of complaints by a few moderate Republicans, notably Susan Collins of Maine, who wanted the process to look fair.

Definitely an improvement. However, voters of Maine, I am trusting that when you decide whether to reelect Collins this fall, you are not going to be moved by the news that before voting to keep Donald Trump in office, she used her powers to make the speaking schedule better.

Nobody has any real doubt about how this is going to end. McConnell is going to deliver his people and get Trump off the hook.

“I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” he said recently. This was a few weeks before the start of the impeachment trial. Then suddenly Mitch transformed into a statesman, begging his colleagues to “put fairness, even-handedness and historical precedent ahead of the partisan passions of the day.”

Much talk about the need to show “some fairness.” Instantly the mind of every Democratic senator flashed back to the time McConnell refused to allow Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court to even come up for a hearing. And the huge pile of other judicial nominations that he let pile up in a basement somewhere, so he’d be able to hand Donald Trump his biggest presidential achievement.

“Fair is fair,” McConnell continued on.

Keeping Donald Trump in office is, of course, critical for McConnell, the man who gets to actually run much of the country as long as a distracted doofus is in the alleged driver’s seat.

Lately said doofus has been in Switzerland, tucked away at the World Economic Forum, a pleasant annual get-together for people who like to talk about money in elevated terms.

He’s made the occasional burst into public — expressing the wish that he could be right there at the trial, where he could “sit right in the front row and stare into their corrupt faces.”

Really, try to imagine Donald Trump sitting still for 2 1/2 hours of anything. Let alone a recapitulation of all the disasters of his term in office. His handlers, in a perfect world, would have had him somewhere on a remote ice floe.

“All I do is, I’m honest,” he told reporters clamoring for an impeachment reaction. “I make great deals. I’ve made great deals for our country.”

How do you think the Founding Fathers would have felt about that? Just try to imagine if one of them got caught trying to trade taxpayer money for political dirt on an opponent. And George Washington calming a horrified colleague with, “Well yeah, Mr. Hamilton, but remember — he makes great deals.”

Gail Collins

Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.