Trump remains a political force, despite impeachment

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The mighty effort to get over the Donald Trump phenomenon has shifted into high gear after the ludicrous fiasco of his second impeachment came to the universally predicted end.

For the Never Trumpers, who had been hiding under camouflage for the past four years, it was in all respects a dismal showing. Even with the president gone and virtually the entire media slinging muck at him as if he had personally stormed into the Capitol and killed five people (at least four of the five who died were his supporters), only seven Republican senators threw a dart at the ex-president’s back and voted to convict him of the spurious charge of inciting an insurrection. 

It is worrisome that anyone would have voted to find him guilty. Incitement is a well-defined legal concept; Trump’s Jan. 6 speech and prior conduct does not meet any of the criteria for it. An insurrection is the violent overthrow of authority, and there is not one scintilla of evidence that Trump desired that. The 57 senators who voted to convict him of an incitement he did not utter to an act he did not wish, for the purpose of removing him from an office he no longer held, were simply common- or garden-variety Trump-haters. It is an unbecoming attitude after the administrations had changed.

In this sense, the American system is working: The people voted to remove the source of exhausting, clangorous, never-ending controversy and combat; they did not want any longer to have a leader of the nation who was in their face all day, every day, and tweeting at them all night. With Joe Biden, the will of the people for a quieter time certainly will be well-served. 

This insane impeachment was unfounded in law and in fact, but it does illustrate the problem. Trump handed his enemies a weapon with which to slay him when he claimed to have won the popular vote; Biden undoubtedly won that vote, fair and square, by approximately 5 million ballots. But there are fair questions about some of the peculiar voting patterns that occurred in several swing states, under cover of pandemic-associated changes that made some of the results unverifiable — indeed, questionable — and did not provide more than the fewer than 60,000 votes needed to flip Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to Trump and win him reelection in the Electoral College.

There is a practically totalitarian effort afoot to suppress that suspicion, including threatening Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) with censure or even expulsion from the Senate for raising the point. The louder that Democrats and Never Trumpers scream that it is a crime to question the election result, the more confident the skeptical half of the country will be that it was not a legitimate result. 

The Supreme Court failed the nation when it abdicated and declined to hear the case brought by Texas’s attorney general and supported by many other states, challenging the election results in several swing states. Regardless of how it ruled, if the high court had consented to hear it and rendered judgment — even against the ex-president, but sensibly reasoned — then this controversy would have been substantially avoided. Now, it will not subside until after the next election, just as the controversy over the 2016 election did not subside until it was replaced by the controversy over the recent election. 

Trump’s enemies have signaled their panic at the thought that he will be back again, and the seven Senate Republican Never Trumpers who voted to convict him, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are trying to nudge the former president. McConnell finally came out of the closet and made the asinine suggestion that Trump could be prosecuted in the criminal courts. Perhaps his enemies should have thought of that before rushing into the farce of a Senate impeachment trial.

It is all futile. Rank-and-file Republicans still support Trump and, unless he commits serious gaffes, he very well may have the party’s nomination again, if he wants it. The sanctimonious declamation by the Wall Street Journal that the Trump era is passing is of no more weight than the offended narcissism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that the incident took place at all. Almost all Americans deplore the vandalism and violence at the Capitol but approximately 85 percent of them despise Congress.

As for the seven Senate Republican back-stabbers, most were condemned by their state Republican associations; Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) are retiring in 2022, and four of the others have four to six years before they have to see their voters again — but Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) could have a rocky ride in her primary next year. None of them articulated any intellectually respectable reason for their vote. And all except Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) had made their hostility to Trump publicly known before. 

The mystery is McConnell. The cagey Kentuckian usually pursues his self-interest but, if Republicans are to regain the Senate next year, they will be dependent on Trump. And if they are to win in 2024, they either will be led by Trump or someone endorsed by Trump. McConnell was inert for the first six months of the Trump administration, waiting to see if the new president would be impeached; he left Trump vulnerable on the repeal of ObamaCare and — apart from the confirmation of federal judges, the tax bill and the rejection of the previous impeachment attempt — he was of little use to the administration. If Republicans regain the Senate in 2022 or 2024, McConnell may be fortunate to retain his leadership position.

The reality is that Trump remains the greatest political force in the country, and his opponents look more cowardly and trivial than ever.

Conrad Black is an essayist, former newspaper publisher, and author of ten books, including three on Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. Follow him on Twitter @ConradMBlack.

Tags 2022 midterms Bill Cassidy Donald Trump Joe Biden Josh Hawley Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Never Trump movement Pat Toomey Republicans Richard Burr Second impeachment of Donald Trump Ted Cruz

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