Mike Murphy on the Senate Impeachment Trial

GOP strategist Mike Murphy talks about the MAGA insurrection, as well as whether there’s a chance of getting 17 Republicans to vote to convict Donald Trump in the U.S. Senate.

Last Friday, I had GOP strategist Mike Murphy on the podcast to talk about the MAGA insurrection, as well as whether there’s a chance of getting 17 Republicans to vote to convict Donald Trump in the U.S. Senate.

Click here to listen to our full conversation.

The following excerpt has been edited for length and clarity:

Matt: If you’re in favor of impeachment, there were 10 Republicans who voted for it in the House. Do you look at that 10 number as something for a reason for hope or discouraging?

Mike: Well, I start by being horrified by it, in kind of the macro sense, and then I then I step back a little bit, and I think “okay, remember the calculus of the politician on this, which is [that] my vote is not material because the Democrats have a majority. So impeachment is going to move forward. So I'm being asked to cheer it along, rather than make it happen. And I think that threshold allowed a ton of them to rationalize the more cowardly move, because they knew their vote would not start or stop it—that it would happen anyway. But because of the Democratic majority, and all that said, it's still pretty depressing. But I think let's put it this way, if it had been a secret ballot, over half the Republican caucus would have voted to impeach…So in a macro sense, I'm horrified by that. In a practical sense, I'm much more interested in Mitch McConnell and the Republicans.

Matt: Right, well, let's go there. I was a little concerned that Mitch McConnell, for whatever reason, decided not to expedite the senate trial. Should I read into that anything? Is that a sign that he's getting cold feet about removal? Or is that just he wants to dot the I's and cross the T's?

Mike: You know, my guess is the latter. And I think he also wants to let the Democrats have procedural control of it when they take the majority shortly after Biden is inaugurated, when the two new Trump driven democrats of Georgia are sworn-in, and the senate control shifts over. So I think, you know, that by letting the Democrats drive it, that guarantees it'll happen rather than having an internal debate inside the Republican caucus about what procedure to take at the beginning, only to lose it anyway to the Democrats in the end. So I think it was a legislative strategy. But you know, McConnell is the kind of guy that when the sling blade comes out, it's going to get used, so I'm taking his original comments pretty seriously. But he's moving in his McConnell way, which is not a lot of public posturing… Now, it's going to be up to the caucus to see where it gels and I think the delay was partially to not try to bum-rush it. I think it was partially a bet that Trump will be trumped and react badly and add fuel to the fire between now and the 19th. And I think mostly, it was procedurally to let the Democrats drive the show, because in a week, they are going to be what's going to happen anyway.

Matt: And in that regard, I wonder if, if it would have been better if Trump still had his Twitter feed? I mean, in a way Twitter might be saving him from himself?

Mike: Yeah, no, I agree…Another week of Trump outrageousness and prima facie evidence that he's totally unfit to be president would probably be helpful.

Matt: I mean, if Twitter had banned Trump on Halloween, he might have won the election.

Mike: They probably had that figured out and they thought “no, let's wait till the thing is litigated before we put the Falcon hood on him and shut him up.”

Matt: Mitch McConnell has reason to be pissed off at Donald Trump. Trump, I would say, single handedly cost the Senate majority, you know?

Mike: Yeah, I mean, they ought to name the DNC building after Trump. He wiped us out in the House. He lost the presidency—most incumbents win—and he wiped us out in the Senate. He is the best thing to happen to the left since Trotsky. I mean, McConnell's never liked him, that's one of the great Washington secrets. But you know, there was a power marriage of necessity and convenience there for a while, and Mitch got some judges and got a lot of policy victories, but it came at a price. And, you know, the other thing that's happened is, I think the smart Repubs have figured out, “wait a minute, you know, we accommodated this guy because we were afraid of our primary voters. But there's no doubt he's a caged animal. And the minute he's loose, he's coming after all of us.” And so I think part of that is stampeding them toward the old sling blade. But you know, we've seen that it's not uncommon for pols to be short term cowards, and therefore long term fools.

Matt: Well, you're right, though. I mean, the idea that you can co-opt him, tame him, outlast him, outwait him, it just has never worked. I think it's sort of a lose-lose at this point, there's no great option for Republicans. But the idea that like ignoring Trump is going to ultimately allow them to triumph over him, I think is the triumph of hope over experience. Right? 

Mike: Yeah, I think it's that situation they used to just avoid pain by kind of punting, and putting up with him, and looking the other way, and running down the Senate hallway avoiding reporters. Now there is no avoiding… he's coming for their throat most of them. So they're either got to kill him, or long term, they got to endure him. And I think the smart ones, of course, led by McConnell who's the shrewdest, are for killing him. Now, the other thing that's going on, that's not getting quite as much attention is the Republican money machine is choking up this whole Trump thing like a bad hairball. You know, the Times story was about Fortune 500 companies, but it's even more than that. I mean, Josh Hawley's top donors have turned on him; his very top donor million—dollar donors—denounced him back Missouri. Even Ken Lagone, who was—the most dangerous place in Washington media was between Ken and a microphone to claim his key leadership roles at Trump fundraiser—he's turned on him. So the Senators are feeling that because, you know, the normal politics of this are they're thinking about how do we get our majority back—particularly in the house where we're only single digit down. And the responsible business funders are not being subtle about sending the message now that if you're in the Trump business, we are done, done, done.

Matt: These big donors, especially, you know, PACs and whatnot, have just shut it down. 

Mike: Yeah, I mean, think about that. If you're a scared Republican senator, and you got to go out and raise 50 million bucks. You have to choose between angering your primary voters or not having any money, so you're outspent five-to-one on television… I mean, I work in corporate America. Don't underestimate how this Trump thing has now become an HR issue in the companies. If you're a company PAC, and you're writing checks to Hawley or Cruz right now, you're gonna have massive employee pushback. And in our service economy, the HR function has become more important than ever because that 26-year-old programmer who doesn't want to be with an uncool company, that's for Ted Cruz—that is a material financial loss to you if you're in software or most of the tech areas where competition for skilled employees is ferocious. So this is a big thing. And if they want to win back majorities, just on the hard calculation of campaign fundraising, where the Democrats have built a war machine, Trump is death, let alone voter death and all the immoral death and everything else he brings.

Click here to listen to our full conversation.