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Former President Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate on Saturday of the charge that he incited the insurrection on Jan. 6. The impeachment trial ended with 57 senators, including seven Republicans, finding Trump guilty — well short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict.
Over the course of a week of testimony, House impeachment managers laid out the case that Trump was directly responsible for the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol carried out by a mob of his supporters. Trump’s attorneys countered by arguing that his baseless claims of election fraud were protected by the First Amendment and that the Senate lacked the constitutional authority to convict a president who was no longer in office.
Several GOP senators cited the latter argument in explaining their decision to acquit. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the violence at the Capitol in a scathing speech following the final vote, but said he voted “not guilty” because he believed it would be unconstitutional to convict a former president. Had the Senate voted to convict Trump, a second vote could have been held to determine whether he should be banned from holding future public office.
Why there’s debate
While the trial ended, as expected, in an acquittal, the impeachment still represents a major win for Democrats, some political pundits argue. By drawing the public’s attention to the details of what happened on Jan. 6, the House managers ensured that the horrifying events will continue to stain Trump and his Republican backers in the public’s eye in a way that the first impeachment never did, they say. Impeachment also served to deepen divisions within a Republican Party that was already struggling to reconcile differences between its pro-Trump and more moderate factions after a series of crushing election losses.
The ultimate result of impeachment, others argue, was to solidify Trump as the clear leader of the GOP. With only a few exceptions, Republicans in Congress fell in line to defend the former president, who still holds enormous sway over the GOP base. Now that it’s clear that even inciting an insurrection won’t cause Republicans to abandon him, Trump will be emboldened to once again attempt to undermine U.S. democracy during a potential 2024 presidential run, his critics fear.
Many on the right argue that the impeachment was purely a political stunt and served only as a platform for Democratic grandstanding with little consequence. Others have criticized Democrats for strategic mistakes — like the decision not to call witnesses — that they believe played into the view of impeachment as a partisan showcase, rather than a true effort to uncover the truth about Trump’s role in the riot.
Though he was acquitted by the Senate, Trump still faces significant legal troubles, including a criminal investigation into his business dealings, civil suits related to accusations of sexual assault and a recently opened inquiry into calls he made to Georgia officials seeking to overturn election results in the state.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday announced that Congress will establish an independent commission to investigate the events surrounding the Capitol attack.
Even without a conviction, impeachment was an emphatic rejection of Trump’s actions
“A clear majority of the Senate voted to condemn the former president as an insurrectionist against the United States. The 57–43 margin wasn’t enough to convict under the Constitution. It wasn’t enough to formally disqualify Trump from ever again seeking office in the United States. But practically? It will do as a solemn and eternal public repudiation of Trump’s betrayal of his oath of office.” — David Frum, Atlantic
Impeachment cemented Trump as the unquestioned leader of the Republican Party
“The most direct impact of the acquittal is that it keeps the door open for Trump to run for president again in 2024. ... Even if he doesn’t run, the vote cements his status as a kingmaker with the influence to elevate his favored politicians in GOP primaries and tarnish his adversaries.” — Sahil Kapur, NBC News
Impeachment deepened the divides within the GOP
“With a tough Senate map on the horizon for Republicans in 2022, Mr. McConnell and other GOP senators face the thorny task of rebuilding a party still dominated by base voters who favor Mr. Trump, while winning back suburban, independent and college-educated voters who fled the party over the past four years, disgusted by Mr. Trump.” — Lindsay Wise, Wall Street Journal
Trump comes out of impeachment stronger than he was before
“He got acquitted. The trial ended exactly when he hoped it would, rather than stretching on into next week or beyond. He cemented the loyalty of the vast majority of Republican politicians to him yet again. And he has the opportunity to try to win back the presidency in 2024.” — Andrew Prokop, Vox
Impeachment helped ensure the public won’t forget Trump’s misdeeds
“His conduct in the post-election period and on January 6 will blight his reputation forevermore. He waged a dishonest and poisonous campaign to overturn the election that culminated in a mob disrupting the counting of electoral votes at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The new videos played by the House managers at the trial brought home again the national embarrassment of that day, with top elected officials scurrying for safety as the rabble descended.” — Editorial, National Review
Impeachment was just empty political theater from Democrats
“Expect Democrats to be especially creative in trying to keep Trump’s name in the headlines. Nothing unites their fractured party like hating him, and Saturday’s failure will provide more fuel for their perpetual outrage.” — Michael Goodwin, Fox News
The trial dealt a major blow to Trump’s future political prospects
“Escaping conviction Saturday, he also avoided official disqualification from holding public office in the future. But the story laid out in the trial — which was powerful and convincing — will disqualify him in the eyes of a majority of Americans. He was spared today. But this trial has ensured that Donald Trump won’t escape the verdict of history.” — David Axelrod, CNN
The final vote provided a clear picture of the threat facing American democracy
“The fact that such a large share of the legislative branch is opposed to America’s democratic form of government is a shocking disgrace, but it is also a threat. Trump is out of office, but as the vote shows, the United States is not free of Trumpism.” — Editorial, USA Today
Impeachment accomplished nothing
“Do I really think this trial, or extending it by a week to wedge in some additional damning testimony, is going to really make a difference in anything other than the history books? Not really. Most voters are going to forget 99 percent of it.” — Jordan Weissmann, Slate
Impeachment only needed to influence a small number of voters to have an important impact
“I’m hopeful enough to think that the sheer amount of truth that was hammered home over the days of the trial will matter. ... I’m optimistic enough to wonder whether McConnell’s post-trial statements, self-serving and hypocritical as they were, might sink in with some Americans. ... Maybe, even though the truth didn’t prevail, some of it managed to see the light of day. Enough, perhaps, to give America’s democracy some ground to stand on.” — Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post
Democrats squandered their chance to make a solid case for convicting Trump
“Inexplicably, the House impeachment managers caved to pressure from Senate Democrats to drop the witness plan, giving the GOP the cover to acquit Trump that they could have only dreamed of. Despite the damning case laid out by the Democrats, this historic blunder has ensured that this impeachment ends as disastrously as it began.” — Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner
Republicans will regret missing the chance to rid themselves of Trump
“Now that Republicans have passed up an opportunity to banish him through impeachment, it is not clear when — or how — they might go about transforming their party into something other than a vessel for a semiretired demagogue who was repudiated by a majority of voters.” — Alexander Burns, New York Times
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