Trump Trial Fallout: Who Knows?

Early analysis merely confirms analysts' priors.

As Steven Taylor noted here yesterday, seven Republican Senators joined all 50 Senate Democrats in voting to convict former President Trump of inciting the riot that killed five people at the Capitol last month. While more than just about anyone predicted going in, that was still ten votes shy of that required by the Constitution for a guilty verdict.

So, what does that tell us? Probably not much we didn’t know.

A POLITICO Magazine feature in which “Fourteen experts explain what the president’s fast, unusual second impeachment will mean for America” is all over the place, perfectly matching what one would have expected from each of the experts based on their ideological positioning.

National Review‘s Andrew C. McCarthy, who cranked out half a dozen books explaining why Barack Obama should have been impeached or how he and Hillary Clinton compared to steal the 2016 election, blamed the Democratic impeachment managers for failing to prove their case. He actually makes some good points, especially that there should have been articles beyond “incitement,” but it strains credulity that it would have mattered if the aim was securing 17 Republican votes to convict.

Former George W. Bush speechwriter turned former Republican David Frum offers perhaps the most optimistic take I’ve encountered.

In 1955, a junior United States senator named John F. Kennedy published Profiles in Courage, a collection of short essays about eight of his predecessors who had risked their careers for their ideals over the previous 150 years.

In one single day in 2021, that many senators showed courage worth enduring historical honor. Seven were Republicans: Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey. The other was Joe Manchin, a Democrat from a state where nearly 69 percent of the voters chose Donald Trump for president in 2020.

Thanks to their integrity, a clear majority of the Senate voted to condemn the former president as an insurrectionist against the United States. The 57-43 margin wasn’t enough to convict under the Constitution. It wasn’t enough to formally disqualify Trump from ever again seeking office in the United States. But practically? It will do as a solemn and eternal public repudiation of Trump’s betrayal of his oath of office.

You say that you are disappointed? That a mere rebuke was not enough? That justice was not done? It wasn’t. But now see the world from the other side, through the eyes of those who defend Trump or even want him to run again. Their hope was to dismiss this impeachment as partisan, as founded on fake evidence, as hypocritical and anti-constitutional—to present this verdict as an act of oppression by one half the country against the other. That hope was banished today.

It’s not half against half. It’s a clear American majority—including a sizable part of the Republican Senate caucus—against a minority. And even many of the senators who voted to acquit went on record to condemn Trump as an outlaw and a seditionist.

I tend to agree that that’s not nothing. Trump simply wasn’t going to be convicted given the supermajority requirement.

We can’t have it both ways here. If this was a criminal trial, the damning evidence against Trump fell short of the incredibly high bar for incitement (for reasons McCarthy lays out nicely). If this was a political trial, then politics naturally factor in. And, like it or not—and I decidedly don’t—the constituencies of most Republican Senators didn’t want them to vote to convict the man for whom they just voted to re-elect as President.

So, I agree with Frum that the Senators—and he rightly includes Manchin in their number—who voted their conscience at the risk of rebuke from their constituents sent a powerful message, indeed.

I share Steven’s bewilderment over Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s mixed signal. It’s bizarre, indeed, to declare that Trump is guilty of the charges and more and yet vote to acquit him on a dubious technicality of jurisdiction. Even if I believed McConnell was a man of scrupulous principle, he should have at minimum voted Present or otherwise refused to vote to acquit. There is, after all, no plausible scenario in which the Senate has no authority to try a man and yet has the authority to acquit him. Beyond that, there was ample time to hold a five-day trial between the House voting to impeach Trump a second time on January 13 and Trump’s departure from office on January 20.

All in all, while I agree with NYT columnist Alexander Burns was yet another demonstration that the Republican Party is still controlled by Trump and Trumpists, it was what I expected going in and I’m actually pleasantly surprised that we got as much demonstration of spine as we did.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. One of the ironies here is that the GOP is now stuck with Trump being able to tease (at a minimum) a 2024 run, which keeps him front and center as the closest thing to a leader the party has.

    And while I do not know if, ultimately, he will actually run for the nomination in 2024, I think he will at least play at it. He can use the 2022 mid-terms to rally at will without any real work.

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  2. Michael Cain says:

    All in all, while I agree with NYT columnist Alexander Burns was yet another demonstration that the Republican Party is still controlled by Trump and Trumpists…

    Trump without media will fade from view surprisingly quickly, I think. The major social media have permanently banned him. The more conventional right-wing media will be reluctant to provide him a platform for fear he will go off script and do stolen election rants, a subject which already has them in court.

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  3. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @Michael Cain:
    Despite the fact that a lot of Trump’s appeal is that he’s a churl, a savvier, slicker, more superficially civilized demagogue may appear before 2022.

    Who among us was thinking of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate in 2013 or 2014?

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  4. SC_Birdflyte says:

    I think the likeliest candidate to inherit the Trumpian majority of the party is Tom Cotton. Unlike Cruz and Hawley, he didn’t make a fool of himself in public defending Trump, while at the same time voting with the GOP majority. To boot, he’s much smarter than Trump, in case Agent Orange decides to try a serious run in 2024.

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  5. charon says:

    @Michael Cain:

    He is likely to be having civil and criminal battles keeping him in the public eye.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think he has serious and severe neurological issues which will progress enough by 2022 to be pretty visible. The hard core Trumpers will stay in denial but others will notice.

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  6. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    The Republicans had their chance to be rid of him. They would have had nearly two years to deal with the fallout with Trump loyalists and as you have noted, that’s not nearly all the voters who pulled the lever for the GOP this past November. Convicting him would have risked their power in the short term, but manageably I would say. Now they have the unmanageable long term problem of Trump’s specter hanging over their party while he will continue to ramble rouse. Everything Trump touches dies – it is inevitable.
    @Michael Cain:
    Trump’s not fading away. Read his galling statement after yesterday’s vote. It truly is appalling. He not only claims exoneration (contra David Frum’s assessment), but he claims the mantle of the true America. The Capitol rioters, even after their actions were exposed during the trial, are still “special” people and patriots who were merely standing up for what is right and good. He may not have Twitter anymore, but he will issue statements, he will hold rallies, and the someone will cover them because sensationalism drives the news.

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  7. @CSK: I am by no means predicting he will be the nominee. Indeed, I am arguing he may not be an official candidate. But, without disqualification for office, he can at least say that he is running or tease that he is running.

    And, clearly, a lot of GOP members of Congress want his endorsement. All this puts him, at least for now, in the position of being the closest thing to a leader the party has.

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  8. @Scott F.: That’s my basic point: the irony is that I think that the GOP would be better off without him, and they just blew their best chance to be rid of him. Now they are stuck with him.

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  9. ptfe says:

    @Michael Cain: You say this, but as a former president – even disgraced to most of us – he already has a built-in platform. He doesn’t need social media to start doing “speaking tours” where he charges little or nothing but sends everyone through the grift shop on the way out. He can do this right up to the point where he either barrels through the nomination process again by being so gosh-darned honest or “is prevented from running” in 2024 by (waves hand vaguely, invents description for anyone who doesn’t adore him).

    Cashing in is the point. He doesn’t care about the office: being out of the public eye costs him money, which he simply won’t tolerate.

    Republicans have few off-ramps in the next 4 years. They just went by the most accessible one in voting not to convict. The next one will probably be in 2022, when they will either need to embrace him again for mid-terms or try to send his faction packing. Since they’ll obviously embrace him (because they need the bigots to vote, yo), the start of the campaign in 2023 will be the next proving ground.

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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.: It’s a classic collective action problem. Most of them want Trump gone, but they very badly want someone else to take the heat for it.

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  11. @Michael Cain: On the one hand, maybe. On the other, the House and Senate GOP are not acting like they think he is about to fade.

  12. EddieInCA says:

    Lindsey Graham today:

    “I don’t see how Kamala Harris doesn’t get impeached.”

    and

    “Trump and his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, are the “future” of the Republican Party.”

    I wish I could be shocked at this point. But there is no bottom.

    https://www.rawstory.com/lindsey-graham-kamala-harris/

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  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think that were he convicted and barred from holding office, he’d, as you say, “tease” a run anyway. Who’d stop him? The Constitution Police?

    This is, of course, totally hypothetical in that the only way he’d be convicted is if he were caught doing something horrible even by Republican standards, like… I was going to cite a hypothetical example for rhetorical purposes, but anything that would repel Republicans is far too gross to post on OTB.

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  14. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:
    @SC_Birdflyte:

    I feel Cotton is the most likely and dangerous inheritor of the cult. But one thing to keep in mind, is that the initial attraction of Trump to future cultists was that he was not of the political elite. It is very likely that the inheritor is someone just as unlikely a candidate as Trump was in 2014.

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  15. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Oh, I agree. I do believe he’ll tease a candidacy. But the chances of him being supplanted are getting greater.

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  16. Kathy says:

    Best case scenario:
    Trump runs in 2024 and doesn’t win the GOP nomination, plunging the party into full-scale civil war.

    And, yes, I’m aware of how bad thing are when the best case includes a civil war.

    Worst case scenario:
    Trump runs in 2024 and loses the general election, then incites another insurrection.

    Ok, the real worst case is if he wins the general election.

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    Trump is all Republicans have left. I’m not surprised they cling to him, they have no ideas, no policies, no vision beyond white and male grievance.

    The Democrats are now the party of law and order, and increasingly the party of the Chamber of Commerce. They’re the party of various rising demographic groups: Asians, Hispanics (though with some slippage), secular folks, educated folks, people who are urban or suburban. Democrats are the party of trade and alliances, and hence, the party of the military and national security.
    Democrats are now both the Mommy and the Daddy party.

    Republicans are the party of men who wear horns on their heads and smear shit on walls. And these people didn’t ‘take over’ the GOP, the GOP was running on fumes, out of ideas, wheezing their dog whistle racism and sexism and bigotry. There was no there, there. The loons ‘took over’ an empty house.

    There will still be money flowing to Republicans, but I won’t be at all surprised if Dems keep the fundraising advantage and grow it significantly.

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  18. Teve says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Trump without media will fade from view surprisingly quickly, I think. The major social media have permanently banned him.

    I’ve been a moderator on a discussion board focused on creationists for 15 years. What I’ve learned is that there is a very small number of disruptive trolls, and telling people “don’t feed the troll” is the most pointless thing in the world. You can contain them to one thread, or ban them, but if you allow them unfettered commenting ability people simply cannot resist engaging and the combination will destroy everything that is good.

    That said, I’m still amazed at just how huge the positive effect of banning Trump from Twitter has been. The air smells downright fresh over there.

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  19. al Ameda says:

    I was DEFINITELY NOT surprised that the Neville Chamberlain Caucus of the Republican senate delegation voted to appease and acquit Donald Trump. I do not see how anyone can be surprised by this outcome.

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  20. CSK says:

    @al Ameda:
    I don’t think anyone was surprised. Perhaps disappointed.

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  21. dazedandconfused says:

    Mitch’s actions are legally and morally bizarre, but from a certain perspective perfectly understandable, a practical leadership perspective. First off being the only senator to abstain would disgust most everybody and accomplish nothing useful. It would be for Trump a sign of weakness and cast as weaseling. For a minority leader, not a good look.

    Perhaps he really does believe only office holders are subject to senate impeachment. Have to give him the benefit of the doubt on that.

    Mitch threw down an irrevocable gauntlet with Trump. Trump has threatened retaliation against senators who vote against him. Mitch placed himself between Trump and the 7, as he should’ve. Let’s see if Trump want’s a war with Mitch or if he backs down.

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  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’d say Republicans are more the Party of Koch, Mercer, Adelson (Miriam), etc.. They control the whole wingnut welfare infrastructure: The Federalist Society, the law and economics movement, AEI, Heritage, The Club for Growth (sic), and all the rest. They stood up the Tea Party and I’d be surprised if they aren’t in contact with the Proud Boys and III%ers and the rest of the Brown Shirt operations.

    I think the future of the R Party depends on where the Billionaire Boys Club goes. They’ve been supporting faux populism for decades, they may double down, as long as the populi don’t demand actually doing anything silly, like good health insurance or strengthening Social Security. Both of which Trump promised but did nothing about.

    They may decide the crazy is bad for business and support Ds. They could form a centrist splinter, but they aren’t centrists and who would vote for it? IMHO odds are they’ll double down on the faux populism unless and until it is clearly fails electorally.

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  23. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @gVOR08:
    Yep, don’t think the Edwin Edwards thing will work. His model appears to be a repulsive version of the Teflon Don.

  24. Raoul says:

    There is a very good chance Trump’s COVID-19 serious infection will stick with him for the rest of his life. I doubt he has the energy to do another run. Come to think about it- his public appearances have dwindled since he was hospitalized and his frenetic debate behavior may have been caused by drugs to keep him alert meaning he has been deteriorating for a while now.

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  25. CSK says:

    @Raoul:
    I didn’t watch the second presidential debate., which was Trump’s first big post-Covid performance. Did he seem debilitated in that?

  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @dazedandconfused: My take is the explanation is much simpler. He’s again threading the needle and keeping the myth alive because that’s what he sees the office holders as needing, but he has to also avoid getting to the “just STFU, Mitch” phase as the leader of the minority. As to what he believes, it’s whatever is necessary to make his position seem viable at the moment. In this case it was “it’s wrong for the Senate to impeach a private citizen.” Next time, it’ll be something else. Plausible deniability uber alles.

    1
  27. Raoul says:

    @CSK: I got my dates wrong, he got the COVID-19 diagnosis just after the first debate. He was more more subdued later but that may have been for strategic reasons. The speculative point remains that he may still be feeling the effects of the infection and may feel so for the rest of his life.

  28. Gustopher says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: The Trumpy candidate will be Don Jr. — he’s everything the Trumpy base wants: dumb and mean. The name is also a big help.

    Whether he will play well with the rest of the party, or the country, I don’t know. Trump l’Orange shifts effortlessly from saying the horrible things the worst people want to hear to a nonchalant “I don’t give a shit, I just told them what they wanted to hear” that makes him seem not as vile. People assume he’s lying to other people, not them. Or that he doesn’t have strong beliefs, so whatever horrible thing he said was just bullshitting.

    So, I expect we will see how much of the Republican Party wants someone who will look them in the eye, and with great conviction and earnestness say “I’m a bad person who will do bad things, mostly to people you hate.” I’m not hopeful.

    2
  29. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:

    “…whatever horrible thing he said was just bullshitting.”

    I think people interpreted what Trump said to be anything they wanted to hear.

    1
  30. charon says:

    @CSK:

    I think people interpreted what Trump said to be anything they wanted to hear.

    https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/trumps-defense-was-an-insult-to-the-impeachment-proceedings-and-an-assault-on-reason

    In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt identifies a paradoxical pair of qualities that characterizes the audiences of totalitarian leaders: gullibility and cynicism.

    Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

    Another quality of totalitarian leaders and their followers alike is the belief that the end justifies the means; this makes it easier to accept the lie as a tactical move, even to support it—and to accept the next lie, and the one after that, and the one after that.

    My emphasis.

    Arendt wrote that the qualities of gullibility and cynicism were present in different proportions depending on a person’s place in the totalitarian movement’s hierarchy. A senator may be more cynical, for example, and a rank-and-file conspiracy theorist more gullible. I suspect that the proportion of gullibility to cynicism can fluctuate over time, depending on one’s mood or circumstances—because everything is possible and nothing has meaning.

    And yet, McConnell said, he believed that a former President could not be subjected to impeachment proceedings. This statement would seem to have wiped out most of Trump’s defense team’s efforts, but an audience of gullible cynics wouldn’t hear it this way. They’d say that they’d known all along that Trump was guilty but should get away with it. They can hold on to this knowledge until the next lie comes along.

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  31. dazedandconfused says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I can’t see how going full anti-Trump helps him in that. His condemnation of Trump was unequivocal. Within the Party Of Trump, high treason, and since he’s no dummy he has to know it. I see only a smattering for comments from the Trumpaloons so far. Shocked into near silence, I guess. Heck if a needle.

  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    @gVOR08:
    Republicans don’t govern. The money people need government. They want things done. I don’t think the Koch’s are on-board with a white supremacist future.

  33. gVOR08 says:

    Hacker and Pierson, in Winner Take All Politics make the point that no, the wealthy don’t want the government to do things. They’re doing well and they’re content with things as they are. They see government mostly as a tool of the “takers”. They’re OK with “drift”, with nothing changing legislatively. They do want light regulation, low taxes, and Federalist Society pro-corporate judges. None of which they’re going to get by supporting Ds.

    On white supremacy, I’ve not seen evidence that Koch and his political money cartel care much one way or another about any of the culture war stuff, except as a tactic to con the rubes. (Yes, sentencing reform, which is consistent with their glibertarian ideology, is good PR, and affects their money not at all.) I imagine there’s some point at which the anti-semitism would bother Adelson. But we didn’t seem to have reached it before he died.

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  34. Ken_L says:

    What Steven said. In between rounds of golf and meetings with his lawyers, Trump will spout enough nonsense about running again in ’24 to keep Republicans spooked. More seriously, the pack of grifters around him (his family chief among them) will exploit every way possible to keep money flowing into MAGA Inc, because the Trump Organization seems incapable of generating any cash these days.

    Lara Trump for the Senate! The porcelain princess for the Senate! Junior for … not sure, New York Governor? The only thing certain is that the musical someone will eventually produce will make Evita look like a sideshow.

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