The Second Escape of Donald J. Trump


This was a historic impeachment trial, on many fronts. It was the very first impeachment trial of a former President, the shortest trial in Senate history, and most notably the second impeachment trial of any president. On the evening of Saturday, February 13th, former President Trump was acquitted— found not guilty— by a vote of 57 guilty to 43 not guilty, which was short of the 67 votes needed to convict him. The Republicans who voted for conviction included Richard Burr (NC), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AL), Mitt Romney (UT), Ben Sasse (NE), and Pat Toomey (PA). Even though Trump was not convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors, this was a bipartisan rebuke of Trump served as a blow to any of Trump’s future political aspirations. 

The week-long trial featured clips of Trump telling his supporters to “fight like hell” and “never concede.” It also showed Trump repeating baseless claims of election fraud as well as clips of the rioters saying “Hang Mike Pence” while searching for the Vice President in the Capitol building. These clips were central to the House Managers’ argument for conviction. On the other hand, President Trump’s lawyers, which included Philadelphia’s Michael van der Veen, cited that Trump’s words at the “Save America” rally in Washington were fully protected by political speech. The defense used just 3 of the 16 hours the Constitution provides to each side.

The biggest surprise of the evening came when Richard Burr, who is not running for reelection in 2022, voted to convict the former President. In his explanation of why he voted to convict, he issued a strong rebuke of Trump, even claiming that “when the [rioters] became violent, the [Trump] used his office to first inflame the situation instead of immediately calling for an end to the assault.” Senator Burr has since been censured by the North Carolina GOP. Another surprise was when Bill Cassidy, once a staunch ally of Trump, voted to convict on the grounds that “our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person.” As Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, made clear in private meetings with the Republican conference, this was a vote of conscience. All seven of these Republicans believe they acted in accordance with the Constitution, political fallout be damned. Now they are all facing the threat of being primaried in the next Senatorial races and have all been censured by their state GOP parties. 

McConnell, though he didn’t vote to convict, gave an astonishingly fiery speech on Saturday evening, slamming Trump for a “disgraceful dereliction of duty and honor.” He effectively signaled to Republicans that he wanted them to move on from Trump. Why didn’t he vote to convict, you might be wondering? He was obviously concerned about the political consequences back in Kentucky if he had voted to convict. However, he did suggest that Trump could face prosecution in the future, citing the “strong criminal justice system in the United States.”

About an hour after McConnell’s speech, Trump finally broke his long silence since the inauguration by issuing a statement from his Mar-A-Lago resort, which demonstrated his willingness to remain a central figure in the Republican Party. He claimed that the movement to Make America Great Again had “just begun.”

Does this mean that President Trump could run for high office in 2024? Of course! He is in a particularly strong position to do so, provided that he maintains this steady level of support in the Republican party. This impeachment has cleared the way for Donald Trump to remain a key figure in Republican politics for years to come. A poll of registered Republicans found that 59% wanted him to remain the central figure of the party, and 54% of them would support him in the 2024 primary. 

Vice President Mike Pence remained fairly silent on the entire issue, even though his family members’ lives were threatened on January 6th. A number of notable Republicans, like Nikki Haley, have issued scathing rebukes of Trump. Haley, a potential 2024 frontrunner and former US Ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, told her fellow Republicans this in a private interview with Politico in the midst of the impeachment trial:

“We need to acknowledge that he let us down. He went down a path that he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t ever let that happen again.”

Trump’s second escape from conviction by the Senate is a reflection on the current state of the Republican party, one that many old-school conservatives like Senator Ben Sasse and Mitt Romney are shying away from. People who align with the Republican Party need to remember that politics isn’t about the weird cult worship of “one dude,” as brilliantly spoken by Senator Sasse; rather, it’s about the conservative values and policies that bind the party together.