Trump impeachment trial: What verdict means for Trump, Biden and America
Only five days after it began, Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial has concluded. As was widely predicted, the final verdict was that the former president was not guilty of inciting an insurrection at the US Capitol last month.
There have now been four presidential impeachment trials in US history, and this one was by far the shortest.
What it lacked in duration, however, it will make up in consequence. A precedent – a former president standing trial – was set. Reputations were burnished and tarnished. And a tumultuous stage was set for political battles to come.
Trump once again avoided conviction by the US Senate because his fellow Republicans, by and large, stuck by his side. The final tally was 57-43, which left the prosecution 10 short of the two-thirds majority required.
That, at its most basic level, is a win for the former president. He is still eligible to run for president again in 2024, if he so chooses. His base, by all indications, is still largely intact. Both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, most Republican officeholders opposed the impeachment proceedings – and those who broke ranks are already facing ferocious criticism and, in some cases, formal reprimands from their Republican constituents.
In a press statement, the former president celebrated his acquittal, condemned Democrats and said that his political movement was just beginning.
Trump – and his movement – did not emerge from this impeachment trial unscathed, however. One of the most memorable portions of the prosecution case by House managers were the new videos of Trump’s supporters, wearing Make America Great Again hats and waving Trump flags, ransacking the Capitol.
Those images will forever be associated with the Trump brand. Every rally he holds from here on will evoke memories of that riot. It may not cost him among the Republican rank and file, but independent voters – and moderates – are unlikely to forget.
A year ago, only one Republican senator – Mitt Romney of Utah – voted to convict Trump. This time, he was joined by six others.
It’s no coincidence, however, that of those who broke ranks, three of them – Susan Collins, Ben Sasse and Bill Cassidy – were just re-elected and don’t have to face voters for six years. Two – Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Richard Burr of North Carolina – are retiring.
That highlights the challenge facing many of the Republican senators in the chamber. A vote to convict would have attracted the ire of primary voters, many of whom would view the turn against Trump as a betrayal. For those in safe Republican states, a challenge from a fellow conservative is a much more pressing concern than whichever Democrat faces off against them in November. What next for Trump – and Trumpism?
Marjorie Taylor Greene embodies Republican dilemma
Republican senators up for re-election next year in swing states – in places like Florida, Wisconsin and Iowa – may have to worry about their vote to acquit being used against them by their Democratic opponents in a general election. One can already envision the attack adverts, accompanied by video of the violence on Capitol Hill.
A lot could depend on what Trump does next. Does he launch himself fully into US politics again, reminding his supporters – and his critics – of these impeachment battles as the next election day approaches? Or does he stick to seclusion of his private clubs and golf course?
I think we all know which is more likely.
If every Senate Republican had their own political calculation to make before casting their vote – weighing whether to risk the ire of their party or the judgement of general election voters – one particular senator’s drama was on particularly stark display.
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, leader of his party in the Senate, had been outspoken for weeks in his criticism of Donald Trump’s conduct on 6 January. For a while, his final vote in the trial was in doubt. On Saturday morning, however, he informed his fellow senators he would support acquittal.
After the Senate rendered its final verdict, he explained why. He condemned Trump’s behaviour and said he engaged in a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”