On Election Day 1964, I handed out pro-Lyndon Johnson leaflets to voters at Connecticut Park Elementary school in Wheaton, Maryland. My friend Bruce stood nearby handing out pro-Barry Goldwater material. As he offered his literature, Bruce’s would say, “Good afternoon, sir (or ma’am), vote for Senator Goldwater.”
The sirs and ma’ams seemed disinclined to follow Bruce’s advice. Most were stone faced. Some pushed back. “You’ve got to be kidding” and “not on your life” were two of the responses. After hearing this, Bruce would say to me “undecided.”
This Washington Post breakdown of where Senators stand on impeaching President Trump reminds me of Bruce in 1964. The Post puts Sen. Joe Manchin down as “open to conviction.” Yet, it quotes Manchin as saying:
I think this [impeachment] is so ill-advised [while] Joe Biden [is] coming in, trying to heal the country, trying to be the president of all the people when we are so divided and fighting again. Let the judicial system do its job.
To me, that seems somewhere between “you’ve got to be kidding” and “not on your life.”
Manchin is a Democrat. Maybe, he’ll vote with his party in the end, assuming he isn’t interested in running for reelection.
But look at some of the Republicans the Post lists as open to conviction: James Inhofe (because he refused to comment), James Lankford (same reason), and Thom Tillis (who said it is “time to move on”). It’s hard for me to imagine any of them voting to convict Trump.
Voting to convict Trump would likely be suicidal for almost any GOP Senator who wants to be reelected in the next two cycles. Trump still enjoys plenty of support among Republican and non-aligned voters. Voting with the Democrats on impeachment would invite a primary and, if the Senator survived it, invite enough Republican defections in the general election to ensure defeat.
And what’s to gain by voting with the Democrats on impeachment? If Trump is convicted, he could then be barred from holding public office in the future by a simple majority vote of the Senate. I assume that many GOP Senators would like that.
But to vote with the Dems on this rationale, a Senator would first have to believe that something like 16 of his GOP colleagues will join him. He would also have to believe that barring Trump from public office won’t enrage Trump supporters to the point that they fail to support the GOP in 2022 and/or 2024.
A smart Senator is unlikely to reach either conclusion. As to the second one, Trump thrives on the politics of grievance. I can’t think of anything that would aggrieve his supporters more than a post-presidency impeachment of their man.
Republican Senators outraged by the assault on the Capitol and Trump’s behavior leading up to it have an easy way out. They can denounce the events of January 6, but vote down the impeachment article on the grounds that a Senate trial of a former president in unconstitutional. The other way out is to maintain that Trump’s conduct, though perhaps grounds for censure, doesn’t rise to the level required for impeachment.
How many Republicans will vote to convict Trump? In the House, only ten Republicans voted to impeach. That’s a little less than five percent. In the Senate, five percent of Republicans would be two-to-three Senators.
So far, according to the Post, no GOP Senator has come out in favor of convicting Trump. In the end, I think a few will vote that way, quite possibly more than three, but nowhere near enough to reach the two-thirds threshold. Indeed, even the Post’s breakdown identifies 28 Senators as already opposed to conviction and 30 more who may be opposed.
What will the public will make of the spectacle of trying a former president? My guess is that the public won’t approve of it. Like Sens. Manchin and Tillis, it will consider the trial ill advised, and feel that it’s time to move on.