Democrats can’t let go of
even as a former President, so on Monday House managers walked their article of impeachment to the Senate for a trial. Their goal is to banish Mr. Trump from running for office again. The result may instead be his acquittal and political revival.
Democrats have already forced one impeachment trial, resulting in acquittal and no notable decline in his political standing. He lost the election due to his handling of Covid and its consequences. But now Democrats want to do it once more with feeling, after Mr. Trump urged his supporters to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6 with a goal of overturning the Electoral College vote for
We’ve said Mr. Trump’s actions—and failure to act to stop the riot as it unfolded—were an impeachable offense and urged him to resign. But now he is out of office and no longer the “imminent threat” that House Democrats said justified their rushed impeachment. The question is what good purpose a Senate trial will serve, and that isn’t apparent.
The Democratic case is that Mr. Trump must be punished lest any future President try something similar in his final days. A conviction by two-thirds of the Senate would also open him to a majority vote barring Mr. Trump from running for public office again. But what if he is acquitted?
One problem is whether such a trial is even constitutional. We’ve run op-eds arguing pro and con. The language in the Constitution refers to impeachment against a President while in office, and Mr. Trump is now a private citizen. Chief Justice
doesn’t seem to believe he needs to preside over the trial because the Constitution stipulates that role for the Chief only for a President. Senior Democrat
will preside instead.
On the other hand, the Founders were clearly aware of the British attempt to impeach
for malfeasance as former Governor-General of Bengal. In the only relevant precedent, the U.S. Senate held a trial of a former War Secretary in 1876 after he was impeached and resigned. But Senators acquitted
in part because some thought a trial after resignation was unconstitutional.
The evidence can support either view, but it’s unsettled law and GOP Senators are lining up to say it’s unconstitutional. Perhaps the House managers will turn up evidence beyond what we already know that persuades the 17 GOP Senators necessary to convict. But most Democrats are already saying they need no new evidence since the facts of what Mr. Trump said and did are on the public record.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump will be able to marshal a defense that he wasn’t allowed to present in the House. He will have a new megaphone for that defense during the trial, and you can bet he will make the case that he is the victim of a sham, partisan show trial. He will mobilize his supporters to pressure GOP Senators, who will have to make a hard political calculation.
It’s easy for Democrats and the press to claim Republicans should vote to convict, but most want to run for re-election again. The rushed House vote—no hearings, no defense—also makes a vote to convict more difficult.
Most GOP voters long ago stopped trusting the mainstream media. Most of the conservative press opposes conviction. Look at the abuse that
the third-ranking Republican in the House, is taking for voting for impeachment. She made a justifiable vote of conscience. But back-benchers are trying to oust her from the leadership.
All of this suggests the trial, which will start in earnest on Feb. 9, will end in Senate acquittal. If it does, Mr. Trump will claim vindication, and it doesn’t matter how many times Speaker
claims he has been “impeached forever.” Mr. Trump will play it as one more show of elite contempt for the “deplorables” who are his voters. He could emerge politically strengthened.
Perhaps this is what Democrats really want, since they know how much they have benefited politically from having Mr. Trump as a foil. They may think they have nothing to lose. If enough GOP Senators vote to convict, Mr. Trump’s supporters will hold it against Republicans more than Democrats. And even if he can’t run for office himself, he can still cause much political mischief.
If they vote to acquit, Mr. Trump can run for the GOP nomination again or as a third-party candidate. The longer Mr. Trump remains a force in politics, the longer he will unite Democrats and divide Republicans. If you think this sounds too cynical, you haven’t met Majority Leader
We thought Joe Biden could have benefited from asking Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer to drop the trial now that Mr. Trump has decamped to Florida. Mr. Trump’s Presidency and his election challenge would have ended in infamy with the riot at the Capitol and the loss of two Georgia seats and Senate GOP control. But Democrats and the press are addicted to Donald J. Trump, so America gets to do this all over again.
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8