Senate Republicans who might run for president in 2024 face a career-altering vote with the decision to convict or acquit former President Donald Trump on impeachment charges he incited the siege of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.
At trial in the Senate, the second in 12 months to adjudicate articles of impeachment against Trump, a vote to convict risks the wrath of grassroots conservatives. The Republican base is with the 45th president and could retaliate for a conviction vote by dealing a mortal blow to any campaign for the 2024 GOP nomination if their opinion that he is not culpable for the Capitol insurrection goes unchanged during the next few years.
Asked if that scenario awaits any Republican contender who, as a senator, votes to convict Trump, a Virginia talk radio host supportive of the former president’s campaigns, John Fredericks, said flatly: “Hell yes.” It does not appear to be an idle threat.
In the weeks since grassroots Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, House Republicans who voted to impeach the 45th president have been censured by the state and county Republican parties that overlap their districts. Vengeful Trump loyalists have also pushed state and county parties to censure elected Republicans for the sin of criticizing the former president’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen — or for simply displaying insufficient fealty.
Sen. Ben Sasse, recently censured by the Nebraska GOP, is among them.
Of the half-dozen Republican senators considered possible 2024 presidential candidates, Sasse is the most likely to vote to convict Trump upon conclusion of a trial that could wrap up as quickly as next week. The others, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rick Scott of Florida, and Tim Scott of South Carolina, are likely acquittal votes.
“From the day the House passed this rushed article of impeachment, I’ve said it’s beyond the constitutional authority of the Senate,” Cotton told talk radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview Tuesday. “It just doesn’t make much sense to many Americans.” If convicted by a 67-vote supermajority of the Senate, the House and Senate could then vote to preclude Trump from holding the White House for the second term that is otherwise available to him under the Constitution.
A vote to acquit, while avoiding one political problem, albeit of significance, could spark others.
History could judge Trump harshly for refusing to concede to President Biden and fomenting conspiracies that the November election was rigged. Recent public opinion polls show that a majority of voters support convicting Trump, an outlook that could harden in the years ahead, forcing Republicans who voted to acquit on the defensive in a general election, should any of them win the 2024 nomination.
Democrats in the House are already attempting to use the insurrection against Republicans who voted against impeachment on Jan. 13.
“President Trump incited a QAnon mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol,” Cole Leiter, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement issued the very next day. “the vast majority of House Republicans caved to President Trump, handing him yet another chance to incite violence against Americans he sees as the enemy, instead of supporting bipartisan articles of impeachment.”
Biden, or whoever the Democratic standard-bearer is in four years, will no doubt do the same if there if the political opening exists. However, Republican strategist Jim Dornan is skeptical, saying four years is an eternity in politics. Voters’ memories are short, and there will most definitely be a shiny new object that will come along to occupy their attention between now and the next presidential election,” he said.
In Trump’s first impeachment trial last year, only Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, voted to convict the 45th president, doing so on one of the two articles approved by House Democrats in late 2019. The coronavirus and its impact on the economy became the dominant issues in the 2020 presidential campaign, with Trump’s impeachment rarely discussed.