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, 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."
In the days that followed, a variety of Senate Republicans echoed the sentiment. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), for example, said over the weekend, "I would think he would think twice before he did it again." Around the same time, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) added, in reference to Trump, "I think that he knows now that ... he needs to go through the proper channels."
Yesterday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that she, too, believes that the president "has learned from this case" and that he "will be much more cautious in the future." The Maine Republican, facing a tough re-election fight, added, "The president has been impeached. That's a pretty big lesson."
Honestly, it's hard not to wonder sometimes whether Senate Republicans have learned anything at all about Donald Trump over the last three years. Indeed, soon after Collins made her on-air comments to CBS News, Trump sat down with some select television anchors in advance of his State of the Union address. As the Washington Post noted, the Maine senator's assertion came up in conversation.
When he was asked about Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) saying he had learned a lesson during impeachment, the president said he'd done nothing wrong: "It was a perfect call."
Not to put too fine a point on this, but in order for someone to learn a valuable lesson after serious wrongdoing, he or she has to recognize the existence of the serious wrongdoing.
Trump hasn't been subtle on this point. He's argued, repeatedly and publicly, that he believes his actions while executing an illegal extortion scheme were "perfect," "beautiful," and by no means worthy of punishment.
But too many Republicans, desperate to shield him from consequences or accountability, choose to ignore Trump's own boasts, inferring presidential contrition that exists only in their imaginations.
To be sure, it's a convenient excuse. Republicans who recognize Trump's guilt, but don't want to remove him from office, make themselves feel better by declaring with confidence that the impeachment ordeal will set him straight -- as if he has a history of being chastened and learning from previous missteps.
But in practical terms, there's no excuse for such an approach. As E.J. Dionne explained in a column this week, "It is, in the true sense of the word, pathetic to pretend that caving in to Trump this time will provide any incentive for him to behave better the next time. The very concept of 'think twice before he did it again' is as alien to Trump as the words 'I don't care about money' or 'It's not all about me.'"
I don't know the president personally, but at a distance it appears his understanding of recent events will only encourage more wrongdoing. Trump now seems to realize that he can do as he pleases -- ignore legal limits, jeopardize national security, abuse the powers of his office, lie about it -- and his party will be too afraid to hold him accountable.
Republicans will cling to the belief that the president will be cautious and contrite going forward, even as he tells them the opposite.
Postscript: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) touched on an additional angle last night, noting via Twitter, "It's just nonsense to think that Trump has learned from his mistakes. When Rudy went back to Ukraine in December -- in the middle of impeachment -- to dig up more dirt, Trump called him seconds after his plane landed to find out what he got. He's still doing it."
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