Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather near Trump's Mar-a-Lago home on 15 February 2021 in West Palm Beach, Florida.(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Why the impeachment trial will embolden Trump

Trump’s home in Florida shows no sign of becoming a quiet retirement retreat as Palm Beach looks set to become the Republican Party’s ideological headquarters

In Donald Trump’s latest historical feat, last Saturday he became the only US president ever to be impeached and acquitted twice. His second impeachment was much like the first: entirely and predictably partisan. Those who oppose Trump voted to impeach and convict him. Those who favour him did not.

Nevertheless, the mainstream media and Washington establishment did its best to turn the proceedings into a show trial with a solemnity that would have approached Tridentine high mass had the Democrats not opened with a video montage of the 6 January events that featured the f-word dozens of times but never showed Trump doing or saying anything that met any legal definition of “incitement”.

Democrats prefer a neutered Republican Party that will accept permanent subordination in American politics

Instead, most of the trial was a boring rigmarole of nauseatingly well-known facts about what was said and not said on 6 January and before, combined with parsed arguments about the finer points of US constitutional law, which a decisive number of senators agreed does not include jurisdiction over a president who has already left office. No serious debate took place. Nobody’s mind was changed. The outcome was obvious to all. Indeed, the process’s whole premise – that a former president should be subject to a trial that can constitutionally only end in his removal from an office he no longer holds – was a non sequitur so totally lacking logic that a partisan political interpretation was the only one possible.

Much has been made of the ten Republican representatives and seven senators who voted with the Democrats against the former president, and of Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s double-talking accusation, made just minutes after his vote to acquit the former president, that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the storming of the Capitol and could now be subject to separate criminal and civil liability.

Beltway chatter dwelled with faux gravitas on whether the Republican Party has reached some sort of crossroads, like a wayward medieval knight forced to choose between the noble path of light and the dark road to perdition. To the media-industrial complex and Washington administrative-managerial caste, the promised light is a benign realm where a minority centre-right party will be tolerated as long as it accepts the left’s cultural hegemony and consents to lose graciously on every other issue, with inoffensive copies of National Review smartly tucked under their weak blue blazered arms. Perdition lies a two-hour flight south in Palm Beach, in an enchanted seaside castle of unrepentant Trumpian sorcery where heresies against the liberal consensus flourish far beyond the enlightening reach of political correctness.

Of course the Democrats prefer a neutered Republican Party that will behave as they wish and accept permanent subordination in American politics. Its worst members, starting with its evil leader, can be blacklisted and de-platformed out of public life regardless of saccharine concerns about their civil rights. Lesser offenders can be re-educated or otherwise “deprogrammed” so that they might be of productive use in the woke new order. Deprived of leadership, the powerless rank-and-file can be safely ignored, just as they were before their noxious populism and archaic commitment to family, country, and tradition came so perilously close to overturning the virtuous rule of their wise urban betters.

But despite these fond wishes, in reality the Republicans face no such choice. Even with ten House and seven Senate Republican votes against Trump, the overwhelming majority still refused to deliver even the symbolic rebuke that the abused impeachment process offered. As the numbers plainly show, more than 95 per cent of Republican representatives (201 out of 211) and 86 per cent of Republican senators (43 out of 50) supported the former president. These figures are actually higher than the 79 per cent of rank-and-file Republicans who continue to view Trump favourably.

Trump’s Republican antagonists in Congress are too few and too ideologically diverse to create an intraparty opposition of any consequence. They may not even be around for much longer.

While Trump has avoided not only a guilty vote but even a lesser measure such as censure, most of the Republican dissenters have already been censured by their state party organisations, and the rest likely will be in the coming days. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 and by far the most prominent of the bunch, was recently denounced as a “traitor” by a planeload of his own constituents.

The new blood is jumping at the chance to continue what they view as a revolution against a stale party establishment

Dissenters planning to stand for re-election in 2022 have already been targeted for removal in the pre-election primary process, in which Trump-endorsed Republicans are expected to challenge them. Marshalling these Trumpian efforts will be easy, for there are so very few dissenters to be targeted while the lower ranks of the party are teeming with bright, well-spoken, scandal-free, and demographically diverse pro-Trump conservatives. The new blood is already jumping at the chance to continue what they view as a revolution against a stale and gerontocratic party establishment led by McConnell, whom Trump has denounced as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” whose uninspired leadership is likely to cost the party future elections. The defection of North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, who has announced that he will not run for re-election in 2022, has vaulted speculation that Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, a native of that state, will run to replace Burr and likely flatten any Republican primary challengers in the process.

Trump by all accounts plans to actively intervene in future Congressional races, building momentum toward his own possible rematch against Biden in 2024, when the current president will be 82 and probably not improved in mental faculties. Trump will have to deal with McConnell, who has announced that he will use his position as minority leader to back Republican candidates he favours, whether or not they support Trump. But McConnell is pushing 80 and commands little loyalty in the party outside the halls of Congress. Distracted by personal and family interests and every inch a creature of official Washington, he answers depressingly well to Trump’s description of him as “dour,” “sullen,” “unsmiling,” and unlikely to lead the party to victory among an electoral base with little use for an establishment that it views as a failure if not downright treasonous.

Trump’s post-presidential home in Florida shows no sign of becoming the usual quiet retirement retreat. Instead, in a gesture virtually never offered to any former president, avid supporters spent Monday’s Presidents Day holiday lining the road to cheer him as he was driven from Mar-a-Lago to his West Palm Beach golf club. Palm Beach itself is rapidly becoming the Republican Party’s ideological and, perhaps more importantly, financial headquarters, home to what may well turn into a shadow presidency that will thrive rather than suffer from national disunity as the next round of elections looms.

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