The Stakes of Trump’s 2nd Impeachment

The former president was acquitted, but the Democrats’ hope is to have convinced at least some of the country that Trump is liable for the Capitol assault.

Donald Trump has the honor of being the subject of half of all impeachments in the history of the United States. Unlike Andrew Johnson or Bill Clinton, he is the only president to have been impeached twice.

Trump himself was silent for almost a month — an unusual silence for the former president. But his messages were a continual presence in Washington during the past week as Democrats used Trump’s own words against him. They used hundreds of tweets and videos to support their argument for a Senate conviction based on his incitement of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

In the end, 57 senators voted to convict and 43 to acquit — Trump escaped. But the fact that seven Republican senators voted for conviction in a country as bitterly divided as the United States should not be overlooked. Even though the verdict was preordained, the process was not in vain.

It’s Still Trump’s Party

Many Republicans were unimpressed by the Democrats’ argument. Television cameras showed Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida, doodling over maps of Europe and Asia during the Democrats’ presentation. Other Republicans were staring at their tables; some roamed the Senate corridors. The obvious lack of interest pointed to the predictable outcome. Trump’s acquittal is a disappointment to all who hoped for a conviction that would bar him from running for office again. Yet, after all the events of the past week and the many details from the Jan. 6 attack, Trump’s hypothetical presidential campaign in 2024 could be complicated.

“There are two impeachment courts: the Senate … and the court of public opinion,” remarked Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic Party strategist, in the Financial Times. She warned that the impeachment will “haunt” the Republican Party for years.*

The Democrats’ arguments were aimed at the public and bolstered by previously unaired, and nightmarish, footage from inside the Capitol building on the day of the Jan. 6 attack. The footage contained clips of police officers overwhelmed by the mob, as well as members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence. Some politicians turned out to be mere feet — and seconds — away from Trump’s enraged supporters.

Impeachment charges require a two-thirds vote in the Senate for conviction. The Senate is currently split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. The odds of a conviction were made clear last week when only six Republican senators voted to allow the trial to take place, supporting the argument that the conviction of a former president is constitutional. And yet, after the Senate trial, seven Republicans — Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Richard Burr (North Carolina), Bill Cassidy (Louisiana) and Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) — voted for conviction, making Trump’s second impeachment the most bipartisan in the history of the U.S.

The Senate vote laid bare the fact that Trump is still the patriarch of his base and that Republicans fear the cost of crossing him: a primary challenge from a candidate who sticks much closer to the former president. At least now there is a clear delineation between principled Republicans and the majority of the GOP.

The Court of Public Opinion

A poll by CBS News/YouGov from before the start of the trial showed that 56% of Americans believed that “Trump’s words and actions leading up to the events at the Capitol encouraged violence.” The same majority wanted to see him convicted. But the partisan split remains massive: 9 in 10 Democrats supported conviction, while only 53% of Independents and a meager 17% of Republicans agreed.

“It was clear that the Senate would not turn [on Trump], but the public could. There is a segment of Republicans that, perhaps for the first time, saw that [Trump] was a disaster, that if allowed to return he will sink the entire party,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.*

There are already indications that, despite Trump’s support from within his base, he is losing ground among moderate Republicans. The Republican polling firm Echelon found that after Joe Biden’s inauguration, only 45% of Republican voters and Republican-leaning Independents want Trump to be a candidate in 2024. This is a 20% drop from December — before the Capitol attack.

Thus, the Senate failed to close Trump’s path for a return to the White House. The American people are the ones who can stop him.

*Editor’s Note: These quotes are accurately translated but could not be independently verified.

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