Today is the kickoff for Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. It is widely expected to be another exercise in futility with Republicans circling the wagon to protect the former president, but the party might well be better off if in the long run if it rips off the scab and votes to convict and disqualify Trump from holding office in the future.
Donald Trump is somewhat unique among former presidents. In addition to being the only president in American history whose supporters have stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent his successor from taking office, Trump is the only living former president who has both additional eligibility and the wherewithal to make another attempt at the presidency. Trump and Jimmy Carter are the only living presidents to serve only one term, but Carter’s health is not good enough to mount another campaign.
Trump could run again but probably could not get elected. The former president’s popularity has plummeted since the election with his approval at 34 percent in the final CNN-SSRS poll of his presidency. Given his behavior figuratively attacking the election results and provoking the literal attack on the Capitol, Trump would almost certainly be poison at the ballot box in 2024.
The rub is that Trump remains popular among Republicans. The same poll found that 80 percent of Republicans approved of Trump, compared to only 34 percent of independents and two percent of Democrats. If these numbers hold, Trump could conceivably win the Republican nomination in 2024 but would almost certainly go down to another humiliating defeat.
The GOP has two choices at this point. They can kick Trump to the curb and ban him from future political campaigns or they can gamble that he won’t scuttle their chances in 2024.
There are pros and cons for the party with either course. The most obvious problem is that the 80 percent of Republicans who still like Trump are the same people that will be called upon to re-elect Republican senators. If we’ve learned anything from the past four years it is that Republican senators will do almost anything to get re-elected. That almost certainly includes acquitting a man whose rhetoric put their own lives in danger as a violent mob of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol.
On the pro side of the ledger, moving against Trump now would give the party two years to rebuild. By purging the conspiracy and Trumpist wings from the party, the factions that didn’t show up for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Republicans may be able to win back some of the moderate conservatives and suburban voters that they lost during the Trump years.
Republicans also have less to fear from a muzzled Trump than they did while he was allowed free rein on Twitter. Without access to social media, the former president was recently reduced to sending an angry letter to the Screen Actors Guild in which he resigned from the union before he could be dismissed. The letter, which is reminiscent of Trump’s tweetstorms of yesteryear, closes with the former president’s familiar signature above the name, “President Donald J. Trump.” The letter comes across as the sad rantings of a beaten man.
The bottom line is that Donald Trump behaved extremely poorly after the election and was unique among American presidents in undermining faith in our elections. No president has ever endangered the Constitution the way Donald Trump did in the series of events that led up to the January 6 insurrection. Republicans who value the traditional principle of constitutionalism should vote to ban Trump from politics.
That isn’t to say that Democrats have done a good job of making it easy for Republicans to vote against the former president. The Democrats could have asked for help from Republican Trump critics in drafting the Articles of Impeachment and given more floor time to Republicans who favored impeachment. Different wording might have influenced some Republicans, such as Chip Roy of Texas, who were critical of the president’s actions but had technical problems with the impeachment article. The Democrats could have also appointed Republicans as impeachment managers to make the effort more bipartisan. The Articles of Impeachment should have paid more attention to the pattern of Trump’s actions since Election Day and put less emphasis on his speech on January 6.
There are signs that the Republicans could have a viable party once again. Even as Donald Trump lost the White House and the Senate for the GOP, Republicans picked up a total of 12 House seats now that Claudia Tinney has been certified the winner in New York’s 22nd district. Many members of the voting public obviously don’t like what progressive Democrats are selling, but they like what Trump is selling even less.
Yet, I have very little doubt that Republicans lack the spine to convict Donald Trump. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) recently said of the impeachment, “Everyone makes mistakes, everyone is entitled to a mulligan once in a while.”
I’m sorry, but spending two months spreading lies about election fraud, trying to overturn election results, and provoking your supporters to attack Congress in an attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power is not a mistake. People who make a concerted effort to overthrow the elected government of the United States do not deserve the same treatment as a golfer who shanks a drive out of bounds.
If Republicans not only refuse to hold Trump accountable but allow him to be a kingmaker in the party going forward – or worse yet, a candidate – then the party deserves the drubbing that they are likely to get in 2024.
There were many indications that Trump was going to be a disaster in 2020. As early as 2019, Rasmussen showed that 52 percent of voters planned to vote against the president, but Republicans ignored the warning signs and doubled down on the unpopular-but-popular-in-the-GOP candidate. In the end, Biden won 51.3 percent of the popular vote.
Voters who twice rejected Trump in the popular vote even before he tried to overturn the Constitution have spoken. Republicans would do well to listen to them, and Democrats are giving the party a relatively easy way out of Trumpland if they choose to take it.
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