WASHINGTON – The gavel-to-gavel television coverage of his impeachment trial this week returned former President Donald Trump to the place he loves best: the political spotlight.
The historic second impeachment trial, which began Tuesday, focuses on accusations that he incited a violent insurrection Jan. 6 with his actions and words before the assault on the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters seeking to overturn the presidential election.
Democrats, and some Republicans, say his actions should bar him from future office and render his support radioactive. Supporters call the trial a election-style attack that will likely help Trump politically, at least among Republican voters.
Both arguments underscore Trump’s own words, in a tweet, right before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol: “Remember this day forever!”
Most people expect Trump to be acquitted, but the Senate trial isn’t just about the verdict.
It’s about Trump’s political potency in the future, one that many analysts believe will be weakened because of his efforts to overturn his election loss to Joe Biden and his repeated calls to his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6, the day Congress was scheduled to formalize the electoral count.
Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and a former special impeachment counsel, said Trump’s exhortations to the crowd fit a “pattern” of disdain for the democratic process.
There may be some backlash to the trial by members of Trump’s “dwindling” base of supporters, Eisen said, but most Americans will remain appalled by his behavior.
“The American people will sit in judgment of the ex-president even if his GOP colleagues in the Senate do not do the right thing,” Eisen said.
Some Republicans said the insurrection is reason enough for their party to shun Trump in future elections.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., one of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the very future of democracy is at stake.
If Republicans don’t hold the former president accountable, Kinzinger wrote, “the chaos of the past few months, and the past four years, could quickly return.”
The trial is the last act of Trump’s convulsive presidency, but his supporters also see it as the start of his comeback. Trump and his backers have said vindictive Democrats are targeting Trump – and his voters – by blaming them for the violent actions of a relative few.
Boris Epshteyn, a former special assistant to Trump, said, “The 45th president is going to come out of this stronger long-term because the Democrats are overreaching, as they always do.”
But impeachment supporters said Trump’s role in encouraging the crowd on Jan. 6, and claiming that the election had been “stolen” from him, leaves him and his followers unfit for public life. They argue Trump turned his back on democracy by advocating for the cancellation of a democratic election – and voters should never forget.
Prosecutors can not remove Trump from office; his term expired Jan. 20. They can try to prevent him from holding public office again, but that requires a conviction that demands the support of 17 Senate Republicans. It’s unlikely that many GOP senators will support conviction.
‘Unconvinced the original impeachment trial really cost Trump many votes’
If Trump runs again for president, supporters said, he will likely use this second impeachment as he did his first one. Accused of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Trump said impeachment was part of an effort by the Democratic political establishment to destroy him and his movement.
Still, Epshteyn said Trump supporters “should absolutely be prepared for the PR onslaught” for the next several elections “and be ready to push back.”
Republican strategist Liz Mair said voters will probably judge Trump’s actions rather the fact that he was impeached.
“I’m unconvinced the original impeachment trial really cost Trump many votes, though his behavior – including that which led to it – certainly did,” Mair said. “That’s probably the same here.”
Trump has not said whether he plans to seek the presidency, but he has served notice he will be involved in next year’s 2022 congressional elections – including primaries between Republicans. Trump and allies have already targeted the House Republicans – including Kinzinger – who voted to impeach the president.
Trump’s remaining strength among Republicans is already being felt.
Last month, he endorsed his former press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as she announced her campaign for governor of Arkansas. On Monday, a day before the impeachment trial, one of Sanders’ primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin announced he was dropping out of the governor’s race and running instead for attorney general.
But a Trump endorsement can be a double-edged sword.
Antipathy to Trump motivated many on the voters who gave Biden his election victory. Anti-Trumpism also helped two Democrats win Senate runoffs in Georgia last month, costing Republicans control of the chamber.
Henry Olsen, a Republican and a senior fellow with the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, said “it’s too soon to know” how the trial might affect Trump’s continuing political strength. He said it “depends on whether the House managers make a strong enough case to begin to dent his support among Republican voters.”
Most major political races are more than a year away, however, and many voters are focused on other things.
Kevin Madden, an independent political strategist and former adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, said the trial “won’t do anything” about the state of national politics.
“It’s the political equivalent of jogging in place,” he said. “His opponents have made up their mind, his supporters have made up their mind, and the broader political middle that doesn’t live or breathe politics has turned their attention to other issues.”
Source: USA Today – Breaking News