Look, he warned you. Way back at the dawn of his political adventure, Donald Trump opined that his supporters would stay with him forever, even if he pulled out a gun and shot somebody in the middle of a Manhattan avenue.
That proposition has fortunately never been tested.
Yet his second impeachment, and the 57-43 vote which led to his acquittal, have managed to unearth thorny truths about American politics and his indelible place in it.
One obvious takeaway from this unusual episode is that the U.S. Constitution’s impeachment provisions have revealed themselves to be a dull-toothed tiger.
This has potentially long-lasting implications: Trump could run for office again, and the country’s constitutional guardrails have proven feeble at a time of mounting threats to democracy.
The Senate’s most powerful figure, Democrat Chuck Schumer, called it a vote that will live in infamy and expressed his fear of this acquittal setting a precedent with bleak implications for the republic.
“If encouraging political violence becomes the norm, it will be open season — open season — on our democracy,” Schumer, the Senate’s majority leader, said.
“Everything will be up for grabs by whoever has the biggest clubs; the sharpest spears; the most powerful guns.”
His Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, spent minutes on the Senate floor also ripping into Trump, saying the former president could yet face criminal and civil threats and that he hadn’t gotten away with anything.
McConnell voted to acquit Trump, however, which he described as a technical matter of agreeing with scholars who argue you can’t convict a former official.
Forty-three of the 50 Senate Republicans opposed conviction. Strikingly, this is weak by historical standards: The seven Republicans voting to convict a president of their own party actually set a new record.HurryTimer: Invalid campaign ID.
And that speaks volumes about how impeachment has worked.
Political parties didn’t exist back when the framers, in their powdered wigs, gathered in downtown Philadelphia to put impeachment rules to paper in 1787 — let alone today’s entrenched party solidarity, which renders the idea of achieving a Senate conviction as remote to our generation as a presidential tweetstorm would have seemed to James Madison’s.
Trump has now single-handedly created a fuller sample size to measure what happens when an impeachment case reaches the Senate, by doubling the number of presidential impeachments in U.S. history from two to four.
The answer is: probably nothing.
Attaining that 67-vote threshold to convict is hard when the person on trial is the de facto leader of one party in the chamber; it’s even harder when Congress is deeply unpopular, and senators are being asked to turf a leader their supporters prefer to them.
Most Republicans made clear they wanted to avoid the trial, and the few who’d backed impeachment faced the wrath of Trump supporters in their home states.
It was all pretty predictable.
They sat through days of testimony where Democrats accused the ex-president of the most serious crime ever committed against the republic by an American commander-in-chief: turning a mob against the state.
- Was there a point to all of this?
- Next: ‘Serious’ criminal investigations
- The ultimate punishment
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