Trump conviction vote exposes GOP divide
The Senate vote to acquit former President Trump underscores the deep divide within the GOP as it seeks its way forward following an extraordinarily turbulent time.
The seven Republicans that joined all 50 Democrats in voting to convict Trump was a higher number than expected and sent a clear message that a faction of the party is eager to move on.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who voted to acquit, took to the Senate floor to offer withering criticism of Trump’s behavior – a sign that he believes the GOP must turn the page on the Trump era to be competitive in future elections.
Trump maintains enormous influence over a large swath of the Republican Party that still views him as its leader. And in a statement declaring victory, Trump told Republicans that he’s not going anywhere.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump said. “In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.”
The Republican Party appears genuinely torn over its future with Trump, with some seeing him as a fundamentally toxic political force that could relegate the GOP to being a minority party for years to come.
Trump’s style and rhetoric have proven to be huge turnoffs to independents, moderates, women and suburban voters.
The former president’s campaign to discredit the 2020 election preceded the violent attack on Capitol Hill, a dark moment in American history that provoked corporations to cut off donations from some Republicans and led thousands of GOP voters across the country to leave the party in disgust.
At the same time, Trump generates enormous enthusiasm among his tens of millions of supporters. Even Trump’s detractors credit him with ushering in a new era of populist politics that centered around an agenda of reworking American trade deals, reducing immigration and cracking down on foreign adversaries, such as China.
Trump is popular among blue-collar voters and helped the GOP make inroads with racial minorities, particularly Hispanics.
While Republicans lost the White House, Senate and House under his watch, the GOP gained a surprising number of House seats in 2020. Trump turned out the second most voters of all time behind only now-President Biden in the presidential race.
Those competing sentiments about Trump have split Republicans as the party wrestles over its future.
There are more Republicans emboldened to speak out against Trump than ever before, indicating his grip on the party is not as strong as it once was.
At Trump’s first impeachment trial, Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) was the only Republican that voted to convict.
This time around Romney was joined by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Bill Cassidy (La.).
As centrists and women, Murkowski and Collins represent a critical voting bloc that has abandoned Republicans over the past two election cycles.
Burr and Toomey, who are both retiring in 2022, represent the business wing that once led the GOP but has lost power to the right-wing grassroots that have embraced Trump and become a dominant force in electoral politics.
Romney is the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee. Some see Sasse, a conservative but unwavering Trump critic, as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate.
McConnell, who is known for his sharp political instincts, is clearly pushing for a post-Trump future for the party after having aligned himself with Trump over his four years in the White House.
In blistering remarks immediately following the impeachment vote, McConnell said Trump was “practically and morally” responsible for the Jan. 6 attack and suggested that he could face criminal charges.
But McConnell also extended an olive branch to those who voted for Trump, saying that his views on the former president should not be seen as an attack on those who supported him.
“In recent weeks, our ex-president’s associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect him as a kind of human shield against criticism. Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That is an absurd deflection,” McConnell said.
“Seventy-four million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did. And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did.”
But many Republicans are likely to see the votes to impeach Trump as an attack on him and his movement.
The 10 House members who voted to impeach Trump are bracing for new primary challenges.
Some Republicans sought to strip Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the number three House Republican, of her leadership post after she voted to impeach Trump. The former president’s allies descended on Cheney’s district to rally conservatives against her.
Others, such as Sasse, have been censured by their state parties or faced intense blowback at home for not defending Trump.
A strong majority of Republicans in the House and Senate still voted to acquit Trump.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) could be competing for the GOP nomination in 2024 and will be able to use their votes to acquit Trump as a selling point for primary voters.
In explaining their vote to acquit, some GOP senators said they viewed the impeachment trial as a political effort designed to punish their Trump-supporting constituents, who they expect will be a major force in conservative election politics going forward.
“This impeachment trial did nothing to bring the domestic terrorists who committed this heinous attack to justice,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “It merely satisfied Democrats’ desire to once again vent their hatred of Donald Trump and their contempt for the tens of millions of Americans who voted for him.”
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