Now that Donald Trump has been impeached for an historic second time, attention turns to the Senate where, according to the Constitution, a trial will begin. The big question is—unlike last year when only one Republican Senator voted to convict Trump on charges resulting from his phone call with the President of Ukraine—will there be 17 Republican senators willing to vote to convict Trump?
Let’s start with what we know. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) is the only senator who has said clearly that he is open to convicting Trump. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) voted to convict last year when Trump was impeached over his phone call with the Ukrainian president. The charges in this impeachment are equally if not more serious, so it seems likely that he too may vote to convict. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA) have also made statements signaling that they’ve had enough of Trump. Murkowski just wants him out, saying “He has caused enough damage,” and Toomey thinks he committed impeachable offenses but is unsure whether impeachment makes sense this close to the end of the Trump presidency.
So if all four of these senators ended up voting to convict Trump, 13 others would have to join to have him convicted. Most of the other senators are keeping their opinions close, and for good reason. A lot could change between now January 19th, which is the earliest the Senate could begin a trial. If the violence we saw on January 6th is repeated it will probably move some more Republicans towards voting for conviction. If they listen to President Trump’s belated requests for “NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” the air may go out of the conviction balloon.
The senators who are most likely to stick with Trump are the ones planning to run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) could fall into that camp. If he opposes conviction he may well inherit the Trump base—especially if Trump is convicted and the Senate votes to prohibit him from running again. So as much as Cruz may, in his heart of hearts, want Trump out of the picture, he will almost certainly vote against conviction. It is likely that most of the potential 2024 candidates will make the same calculation.
Then there is the pool of senators who just got re-elected in 2020 and who will therefore not face re-election until 2026—a lifetime in politics. Chief among these is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is reported to be “livid” with Trump and who is not whipping his colleagues to vote against conviction. McConnell is now 78 years old. He may decide that this is his last term in office and end up voting for conviction. What McConnell does will have a definitive impact on his colleagues. If he continues to signal his desire to rid the Republican Party of Trump it is likely that others will follow. For instance, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) won a 9-point victory over her Democratic challenger while Trump was losing the state of Maine to Biden by 9 points. She clearly does not need to fear revenge from the Trump base. If McConnell sends out strong signals for conviction others may follow, concluding that they are doing the Republican Party a favor by getting rid of Trump, thus enabling the party to turn the page on a contentious and chaotic era.
All in all there are 16 Republican senators who did not vote to sustain the pro-Trump objections to the Electoral College roll call and who are not up for re-election until 2026. In voting to confirm Biden’s election they have already broken with Trump—will they go all the way and vote to convict him or will they decide to limit the fury in the base of the party and refrain from voting to convict? It would only take thirteen of the Republican senators in this group (not counting Ben Sasse) to join Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey in voting with the Democrats to convict Donald Trump.
And there may be more. As we went into the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, we knew of six members who were going to vote for the Democrats. By the end of the day there were ten who crossed over.
In the past week Donald Trump’s support has been shrinking by the moment. In the end, if 17 Republican senators vote to convict it will probably be because of the way Trump has conducted his presidency, indulging his autocratic beliefs and treating others with legitimate claims to power as if they were groundskeepers at one of his golf clubs. As Majority Leader Hoyer said in the final moments of debate on the floor of the House: “Donald Trump demands absolute loyalty and gives none in return.” More than anything else that may be his undoing.
(Picture: ABC News)