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A fresh look at the 'big lesson' Collins wanted Trump to learn

It's worth revisiting the many Republicans who said Trump learned a valuable lesson from impeachment and would avoid such misconduct in the future.
Image: Susan Collins
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine is surrounded by reporters as she arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 25, 2017, before a test vote on the Republican health care bill. The bill has faced opposition and challenges within the Republican ranks, including by Collins.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

About a year ago, during Donald Trump's impeachment trial, there was a sizable contingent of Senate Republicans who conceded that the president was obviously guilty, but who voted to acquit anyway. Their reasoning was based on a trio of arguments.

First, these GOP senators said the 2020 presidential election was coming right up, and if Americans disapproved of Trump's misconduct, they could simply vote against him. (What we didn't know at the time was that a majority of the American electorate would end up voting against him, leading a few too many Republicans to say Trump should remain in power anyway.)

Second, these same senators suggested that an American president may have launched an illegal extortion scheme against a foreign ally, because he wanted foreigners to help him cheat in his re-election campaign, but that just wasn't a serious enough offense.

But the third talking point was arguably the most important: Trump, they said, was chastened by the unpleasant impeachment process, and he certainly wouldn't be doing anything like this again.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) was among the first Republicans to argue that Donald Trump had learned a valuable lesson as a result of the Ukraine scandal. During a Meet the Press interview, NBC News' Chuck Todd told the Indiana Republican, "This president, as you know, he's going to take acquittal and think, 'I can keep doing this.'"

Braun disagreed. "I don't think that," the GOP senator replied, adding, "I think he'll put two and two together. In this case, he was taken to the carpet." As regular readers may recall, in the days that followed, a variety of Senate Republicans echoed the sentiment. Then-Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), for example, added, "I would think he would think twice before he did it again."

And then, of course, there was the piece de resistance of the genre.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) became the latest Republican on Tuesday to suggest that even when Trump is acquitted, he will have learned his lesson. She ventured a prediction that Trump will be "much more cautious" about soliciting foreign assistance. "I believe that the president has learned from this case," Collins told CBS News. "The president has been impeached. That's a pretty big lesson."

The Maine Republican was referring, of course, to a scandal in which the president threatened an ally in the hopes he'd help Trump cheat in an election. Over the weekend, Trump did ... the exact same thing.

All of which leaves us with two possibilities: either Collins and her allies had it backwards, and the president learned nothing from his impeachment proceedings, or Collins was inadvertently correct: Trump "learned from this case" that Republicans would tolerate his abuses, no matter how brazen, creating accountability-free conditions for the corrupt president.