Can Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy rehabilitate himself, or does he want to?
In the span of a few days, Cassidy put himself in hot water with a significant segment of his constituents by first assenting to the constitutionality of an impeachment trial for GOP former Pres. Donald Trump, then by voting to convict him. He and six other Republicans ended up on the losing side, joining all Senate Democrats.
Perhaps more significantly, while three of those GOP votes came from swing-state senators – two planning on retiring and one who always has displayed unpredictablilty, and three others came from red states from senators who in the past had a pattern of criticism of Trump, Cassidy’s was the only one from a red state with a history of strong support for Trump’s actions. Further, on a prior motion in January to dismiss the impeachment on the grounds of unconstitutionality, Cassidy voted against holding the trial.
Taken together, Cassidy’s choices reveal a maddening inconsistency, derived either from an unprincipled approach or from willful ignorance. He declared he switched on the constitutionality question because of superior argumentation by the Democrats who impeached Trump, implying he abrogated his duty to use all resources to judge the question and let himself have his mind made up for him by whichever lawyers turned out the slickest. That weak justification likely served as a cover to allow him to do what he intended, voting to convict.
Cassidy said he voted in favor of a charge of “incitement” to “insurrection” because:
[Trump] brought together a crowd but a portion of that was transformed into a mob, and when they went into the Capitol it was clear that he wished lawmakers be intimidated …. And even after he knew violence was taking place, he continued to basically sanction the mob being there. And not until later did he actually ask them to leave. All of that points to a motive and a method and that is wrong – he should be held accountable.
Little of his statement stands up to factual scrutiny. Not only does the evidence that the alleged object, unrest at the Capitol on Jan. 6 supposedly triggered by Trump rhetoric to a nearby crowd, points to the attack as preplanned and enough so that the federal government suspected it was coming, but Trump himself asked only that rally participants peacefully express their intentions. And what exactly could Trump have said that the mob – who had started filtering out to execute its plan well before the speech ended – out of earshot that would have stopped it? Plus, from a legal perspective, this clearly would not come close to a convictable “offense” in a court of law.
So, Cassidy claimed he switched on the constitutionality issue because of (selective) “evidence,” but then on the question of incitement with a standard far below its legal meaning – but adequate for a political, rather than legal, process – he ignores the evidence. This is the act of somebody either with poor judgment or who behaves as an unprincipled politician.
It’s possible that Cassidy, on big constitutional matters such as this for whatever reason, just doesn’t exhibit good sense. If so, that goes a long way to disqualifying him to sit as a representative of Louisianans. If unprincipled – adopting and discarding guiding ideas according to the dictates of political demands – then the question becomes his motive.
He may have decided a dozen years in the Senate will be enough. Having just secured reelection, he might see himself more of a free agent doing what he thinks best for his legacy (or the state, but his unprincipled approach degrades its political environment in which he operates). Out of office, he couldn’t go back to active medicine but perhaps an administrative role would suit him, or maybe advocacy on behalf of dyslexia (one of his children suffers from it, and he and his wife founded a charter school designed the needs of dyslexic children).
Perhaps he has cravings for a higher national profile and decided it was time to put himself into the running for a “Strange New Respect” award. Whether his former ideological adversaries in the media and the left will comply, this presupposes he can win future elections.
Which now has become far less certain. He might believe the whole thing will blow over after he has indulged in his confusion, for six years is a long time. This is the interpretation favored by spokesmen of the political left (as voiced by one of my professional colleagues, who believes Cassidy responded to his inner “pragmatist” or “moderate”), but that views exhibits unawareness of the dynamics of Louisiana’s majority party the GOP and its voters. If Cassidy doesn’t retire, a number of Republican state legislators term-limited for 2028 and perhaps even GOP statewide elected officials now see his office as a free shot in 2026, as any can make a convincing case that Cassidy abandoned conservative principles, and any quality Republican doing that stands a decent chance of taking Cassidy’s seat from him.
Others claiming conservative credentials have tried using this tactic, but Cassidy until now gave them little ammunition with his solidly conservative voting record in Washington. But he has played so transparently badly this rather visibly large question of principles, even if entirely symbolic, that he washed away any good will he had generated with a substantial portion of the electorate. Whether he gravitates towards new bedfellows or responds by becoming even more reliably conservative in policy actions in order to compensate for his mistake ultimately will reveal what his motives truly were.