Even with acquittal, GOP sees trial ending Trump’s shot at future office
Senate Republicans, including those who do not plan to vote to convict former President Trump, say this week’s impeachment trial has effectively ended any chance of him becoming the GOP presidential nominee in 2024.
From the viewpoint of some Republican senators, the compelling case presented by House prosecutors carries a silver lining: It means they likely won’t have to worry about Trump running for president again in three years, while at the same time eroding his influence in party politics more generally.
Several Republican senators became irate watching videos of the violence and chaos inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, including footage of police officers being called “pigs” and “traitors” and one officer screaming as he was crushed by rioters battering a police line.
Interspersed with the traumatic scenes were clips of Trump urging his supporters to march to the Capitol, warning them “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore” and telling them “we love you; you’re very special” shortly after the attack.
“It just makes you realize what an asshole Donald Trump is,” said one GOP senator after watching day two of the House managers’ presentation.
The lawmaker suggested that Democrats may ultimately help the GOP by sidelining Trump.
“Unwittingly, they are doing us a favor. They’re making Donald Trump disqualified to run for president” even if he is acquitted, the senator said.
Other Republican senators, even those who have indicated they will vote to acquit, say it would be a good thing if the impeachment trial helps distance the party from Trump, who has thoroughly dominated GOP politics over the past five years.
“I can’t imagine the emotional reaction, the visceral reaction to what we saw today doesn’t have people thinking, ‘This is awful,’ whatever their view is on whether the president ought to be impeached or convicted,” said another GOP senator. “What would stand out to my colleagues is there was no rescue, there was nothing that came to put an end to it.”
House impeachment managers emphasized that the National Guard was not deployed until two hours after the attack on the Capitol began, delaying the arrival of troops until 5 p.m. that day.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) noted in his presentation that Trump was not on the list released by the Pentagon of administration officials consulted on the eventual decision to deploy the Guard.
Democratic prosecutors also presented a report that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) got into a heated exchange with Trump on Jan. 6 during a phone call in which he pleaded with the president to denounce the rioters as they stormed the Capitol.
“This reminded and confirmed and probably added deeper emotion to the view that the president’s involvement in the party, while it brought new people, it’s very damaging to who we are, what we believe and what we stand for — what we believe we stand for,” the second GOP senator said.
The senator said many constituents think “Trump is a huge problem for Republicans,” while acknowledging there are many GOP voters who think the former president has been “railroaded” by the establishment.
“This is very damaging to any future political race for President Trump, but I’ve been amazed at the amount of and intensity of support despite all the other things that have happened,” the senator added.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) was the only Republican senator this week who publicly expressed the view shared by many of her GOP colleagues that Trump’s actions since losing the election have nullified his future viability as a presidential candidate.
“After the American public sees the full story laid out here … I don’t see how Donald Trump could be reelected to the presidency again,” Murkowski told reporters Wednesday.
Other Republicans said privately they agreed with that assessment.
A third GOP senator said the facts laid out in the impeachment trial underscore just how difficult it would be for Trump to portray himself as an electable presidential candidate in 2024.
“I think closing the door on that [Trump] chapter is probably positive overall,” the senator said.
But the lawmaker acknowledged “it’s a bit of a dance” because a lot of voters in the party still like Trump and are sympathetic to his claims that the election was swayed by unfair decisions about absentee ballots.
“We have to be careful as a party to embrace those folks and the big question is, ‘Were they just Trump Republicans and not Republicans?’” the senator said, predicting that inroads can be made with those voters by hitting on the same themes Trump did during his presidency, such as pressuring schools to reopen for in-person learning during the pandemic.
Polls show a majority of Americans think Trump should be convicted, a shift in sentiment compared to his first impeachment trial in 2020.
A CBS News-YouGov poll released Tuesday showed that 56 percent supported convicting Trump, with 44 percent opposed.
In December 2019, shortly before Trump’s first impeachment trial, a CBS News-YouGov poll found that only 42 percent of respondents supported conviction.
The New York Times reported last month that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had told associates that he thought Trump committed impeachable offenses and that an impeachment trial would make it easier to purge Trump from the party.
McConnell hasn’t spoken to Trump since Dec. 15, and he has made it clear to GOP colleagues that they are free to vote their conscience on whether to convict Trump on the charge that he incited the Jan. 6 riot. At least six GOP senators have indicated they are seriously weighing a vote for conviction.
A fourth Republican senator agreed that Trump’s power in the party has been dealt a severe blow because of the detailed exposition of his behavior in the run-up to the Capitol attack and his subsequent actions.
“It certainly can’t have been helpful to him to have all this discussed and linked up. In his case, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t run, even if he knew he couldn’t win,” the lawmaker added.
If winning the Republican nomination in 2024 appears increasingly remote, Trump may not want to risk becoming a two-time loser in presidential elections, lawmakers say.
But they caution that even with diminished power, Trump will remain a potent force.
“Even if he can’t be the nominee, even if he couldn’t be elected, he’ll still be part of that discussion for a while,” the senator added.