Senate Republicans Must Impeach Trump to Save The Republic and Themselves
January 27, 2021
Impeaching Donald Trump is critical for protecting our democracy from a tyrant, but that is not the only reason for conducting a trial in the Senate and convicting him.
The trial may also be moderate Republicans’ last chance to cast Trump out of their party and to avoid being purged by his hard-core followers. And if the Senate does not convict Trump, President Joe Biden may not be able to govern effectively. That would be toxic for our democracy, already badly damaged by the last four years.
You’d think the Republicans in the Senate would use this opportunity to banish Trump from public life. Unfortunately, they may squander it.
The Big Lie Has Worked
Most Republicans continue to believe Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen. Over 80% of Republicans still approve of Trump, even after the horrifying assault on Congress. Very few blame him for the attack.
If these die-hard attitudes persist, the “uncivil war” that President Joe Biden spoke of in his inaugural address will only get worse. Our country could be doomed to four more years of turmoil and stagnation. But a thorough impeachment trial and conviction could serve as a “truth and justice commission” that might change the minds of some Republicans. That’s an uphill battle, but a crucial one.
Trump’s Personality Cult Remains Strong
Most Republican voters’ devotion to Trump remains unshaken. They are not troubled that for over two months Trump lied incessantly about election fraud, tried to throw out the popular vote, and provoked the attack on the Capitol.
That’s because they fervently believe that Biden stole the election, even though 50 Secretaries of State, many of them Republican, certified the voting results. Trump’s followers faithfully recite his claims of fraud, ignoring the judges, some appointed by Trump, who threw out 60 lawsuits challenging the election results.
About 75% of Republicans do not believe that Biden won the election legitimately. In those voters’ eyes, the system is “rigged” and Biden has no authority to govern. That is dangerous for a democratic system, which relies on trust in government.
Collaborators in Congress
This situation is even more troubling because there is no evidence for Trump’s claims. Tragically, many Republicans in Congress echoed his lies, feeding the conspiracy theory about the “steal”. That included Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, the two-highest ranking Republicans in the House. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley led a shameful campaign in the Senate to nullify the Electoral College votes.
In the House, 121 Republican members — two-thirds — voted to overturn the election results, as did seven Republican Senators. In each case, the lawmakers took those actions after fleeing for their lives as the mob attacked their chambers.
With that kind of “leadership”, one can understand why many Republican voters would continue to harbor fantasies about election fraud. Changing their minds will be difficult, but it’s essential. Otherwise, Trump could easily be the Republican candidate for President in 2024.
Moderate Republican members, already an endangered species, could become extinct if Trump continues to dominate the party. The former President has threatened revenge not only against those who voted to impeach him, but also against state officials, like Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, who simply did their duty by certifying election results. In Trump’s eyes, they were traitors.
The 10 brave House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump have already faced tremendous criticism and threats of primary challenges in 2022. Numerous Republican members want to force Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, from her post because of her vote for impeachment. If they succeed, that will be a bad omen for the relatively moderate wing of the party in the House or the Senate.
In the current state of the Republican Party, it seems, it is “disloyal” to oppose a President who fomented an insurrection against Congress.
Whitewashing the Assault
Many rank-and-file Republicans display an authoritarian attitude in their reaction to the riot. They don’t seem troubled by the assault, and they absolve Trump of any responsibility. That’s even though the President repeatedly called upon his followers to rally on January 6, tweeting “it will be wild,” and then gave an incendiary speech at the gathering.
There’s a huge, partisan gap in perception on this issue: only 11% of Republicans blame Trump for instigating the attack, compared with 52% of all voters and 91% of Democrats, based on an NBC poll. About half of Republicans think Antifa, not Trump, was responsible for the carnage. Furthermore, more than a quarter said that Trump’s words and actions on January 6 reinforced their positive view of Trump. That’s chilling.
One-third of Republicans even blame Democratic members of Congress for the attack. How’s that for magical thinking? Only 5% regretted voting for Trump, in the wake of the assault.
Appeasing Trump Does Not Work
Not surprisingly, only about 20% of Republicans support impeaching and convicting Trump, based on a Morning Consult/Politico Poll. That’s a big problem for Sen. Mitch McConnell and other Republican Senators who would like to expel Trump from public life. They were shocked by the assault and, no doubt, they worry about their political futures if the crazies win total control of the party. But they are intimidated by those poll numbers and the $200 million Trump has raised since the election.
Still, these Senators should realize that appeasement never worked with Trump during his four years in office. Each time the President abused his office, they looked aside. Each time, Trump took their acquiescence as a sign he could go even further in violating norms.
If McConnell & Co. cave again and don’t vote to convict Trump, he will either run again for President or remain the key power broker in the Party. Trump will try to destroy any moderate Republicans who won’t kowtow to him.
Conviction Is a Long Shot
Convicting Trump requires a two-thirds vote by the Senate. Assuming all Democratic Senators vote in favor, 17 Republican Senators would have to vote to convict Trump. If that happened, a simple majority of the Senate could then vote to ban Trump from running for public office. That is the real point of impeaching the former President.
So far, most Republican Senators are hiding their heads in the sand, probably out of fear. Twenty-seven have declared that they oppose impeaching Trump, based on a New York Times survey. Sixteen Senators are “undecided”. Of those Senators, only seven, including McConnell, have indicated that they are open-minded about impeachment. (Another seven senators didn’t even respond to the Times.)
On January 26, Sen. Paul Rand introduced a motion declaring that an impeachment trial would be unconstitutional because Trump is no longer President. That is a highly dubious theory. In fact, the Senate did impeach a Cabinet officer after he resigned, although he was not convicted.
In any event, only five Republican Senators, out of 50, voted against his motion. This lopsided vote probably indicates that most Republican Senators are not likely to vote in favor of conviction. Nevertheless, there is some chance they could change their minds depending on the conduct of the trial….and shifts in public opinion.
But This Time Could Be Different
At this point, it looks like rounding up 17 votes will be a challenge for McConnell, given the rank and file’s intense loyalty to Trump. Still, this impeachment trial could be different from the first one.
This time, McConnell and some other Republican Senators have powerful incentives, self-preservation and revenge, for punishing Trump. If police officers had not managed to delay the mob for a few minutes, the rioters would have physically attacked the Senators.
The general public has turned against Trump, with 55% favoring impeachment, based on a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll. Among independent voters, 50% support impeachment, while 39% are opposed. Democrats overwhelmingly (86%) want Trump to be impeached.
The Democratic leaders in Congress have learned a few things from Trump’s first impeachment. They have kept it simple, crafting a single charge of impeachment, which focuses on Trump’s incitement of the insurrection. They can use Trump’s tweets about election fraud and his remarks at the rally as evidence. The former President has essentially already testified against himself.
In the article of impeachment, the Democrats cleverly referred to Trump’s call with the Georgia Secretary of State, which illustrated his pattern of abusing his office. However, they refrained from adding a second charge based on the incident.
During the trial, the Democrats can replay parts of the call, with its mafioso-style overtones, without getting bogged down in questions about Trump’s “intent”. In the first impeachment, Trump’s defenders had raised the issue of “intent” to muddy the waters about Trump’s shake-down call to the Ukrainian Prime Minister.
A “Truth and Reconciliation” Commission
Moderate Republican Senators could use the impeachment trial to change voters’ perception of Trump and turn the tide of Republican opinion. They could use videos of Trump’s speech and graphic scenes from the riot to educate voters who otherwise get their news only from Fox or ultra-right social media.
If several Republican Senators declare during the trial that 1) Biden won the election fairly and 2) Trump triggered the attack on Congress, that might change some Republicans’ minds. Their remarks would probably have a major effect on independent voters, leading even more in that group to favor impeachment.
Impeachment is Risky but Critical
Impeaching Trump is risky, of course, but a failure to punish the former President could inflict great harm on American democracy.
If the Senate fails to convict Trump, his followers might become even more extreme in their views. We could see more ferocious attacks on government buildings and politicians.
If Trump were acquitted, his faction could seize total control of the Republican Party and push it even further in an authoritarian direction. That would create a grave threat to our democracy.
And moderate Republicans in Congress would go the way of the do-do bird.