Donald J. Trump survived efforts to impeach him on Saturday, but survival knows various definitions and in Mr. Trump’s case none include a return to the presidency. The 57-43 vote was the most bi-partisan impeachment vote ever; even the truest of Republicans — Sen. Mitch McConnell — lit the former president’s legacy up in flames, essentially calling him a liar, a scoundrel and someone unfit for the presidency.
Although Democrats were fixated on his conviction, and ensuring that Mr. Trump would never again be allowed to run for office, for them it’s arguably better that proceedings ended as they did. The voters are a better judge of his suitability going forward.
Mr. Trump will do whatever he can to remain in the public’s gaze. His narcissism permits nothing else. But four years is an eternity in politics and his weaknesses, his vulnerabilities, his record, pending lawsuits, and the memory of the January 6th insurrection and his role, will conflate to make him unelectable. The thought, among his supporters, is that he would rule in absentia; that candidates would seek his blessing and that he would make it clear they did his bidding.
As powerful as Mr. Trump’s hold on his base is thought to be, Mr. McConnell understands his mission and has set himself the task of trying to bridge the gap between the party’s extremists [Trump’s supporters] and the party’s more moderate faction [like the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Mr. Trump.] It’s a task for which Mr. McConnell’s skills are uniquely matched. His purpose is for the Republicans to regain power in 2022; nothing else. As the most powerful Republican in Washington, everything rides on the outcome.
The difference between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell is that Mr. McConnell doesn’t need the attention, Mr. Trump does. One also disdains the other. It’s difficult to see the two working toward the common goal of a unified Republican Party.
It’s hard to see “unity” as an outcome at any level, within either party, or between the two. The 2022 mid-term election is being touted as the most important in recent memory. It could determine whether the Republicans can hold it together as a party, or whether its populist core will split with the moderates, making life for the Democrats much simpler. We can see this play out in Vermont. Can Republican Gov. Phil ever see himself aligned with the Trump wing of his party? Hardly. Mr. Scott’s dilemma applies to other Republican leaders in many states outside states like Texas, Alabama, etc.
Democratic Party leaders understand this as well; the tightly choreographed impeachment process will be played and replayed time and time again for the next two years. Mr. McConnell’s speech condemning Mr. Trump will be used to its full advantage, intended or not. Footage of the extremists’ attack on the capitol will become the most universally used political tool we have ever witnessed.
As politically adroit as Mr. McConnell is, his success will depend, in no small part, on the profile of Mr. Trump and his looming presence. He has been banned from Twitter for life. Facebook will soon consider the same question. Fox News is less adoring of the former president than when he was in office. Other networks have already made the switch to covering the Biden administration. How he maintains contact with his base remains to be seen; he may also find himself in the cross hairs of lawsuits in New York and Georgia and, as has been reported, he has a business to run that is anything but robust.
If he can’t control the message, as he did when he was president, then there is every chance presidential wannabes will begin to rise within the party; it’s a blood sport, after all, and Mr. Trump, it should be remembered, is not as popular as he may think. His approval ratings never topped 50 percent and his post-election conduct is responsible for the Senate losing its majority when the two Democratic senators from Georgia upset two entrenched Republicans.
He’s a loser. The sooner the Republicans push him aside the easier their path forward. That’s Mr. McConnell’s charge.
by Emerson Lynn