With former President Donald Trump facing his second Senate trial in as many years, Democrats are keeping him in the spotlight as part of a process intended to make him go away.
The main practical purpose of continuing to pursue Trump’s impeachment following the expiration of his term, a move most Senate Republicans contend is unconstitutional, is to bar him from serving in public office in the future. A conviction would almost certainly lead to votes that would put any future political ambitions in 2024 and beyond on ice.
Politically, however, impeachment also has the effect of keeping Trump in the public eye and potentially putting Republicans in the awkward position of defending his actions between the presidential election and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
The White House has maintained that President Biden has better things to do than concern himself with Trump’s trial. “I think it’s clear from his schedule, and from his intention, he will not spend too much time watching the proceedings of — any time over the course of this week,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at Monday’s White House briefing. Republicans will argue their congressional counterparts have more productive uses of their time, too.
“After spending four years telling Americans about the need to move on from President Trump, it turns out Democrats are the ones who can’t let him go,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement on Monday. “With nothing else to offer, this week Senate Democrats are resorting back to running the impeachment playbook for the second time in as many years, this time of a president no longer in office.”
Trump’s legal team said in its own statement Monday that it would demonstrate that “it is absurd and unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial against a private citizen.” But Republicans fear, and Democrats may hope, the Trump impeachment defense will move beyond the questions GOP senators have raised and instead relitigate the ex-president’s claims about voter fraud and the 2020 election.
For Democrats, the challenge is how to keep the impeachment train chugging forward without also derailing their own ambitious legislative agenda, which includes items related to COVID-19 and the economy that will be more important to voters in the midterm elections than Trump. Republicans, for the most part, want to disassociate themselves from the violent events of Jan. 6, even as some of them supported the election challenges based on the former president’s assertions of a “stolen” and “rigged” race, without alienating Trump and his supporters or encouraging primary challenges.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, last week, comfortably beat back an attempted ouster over her vote to impeach Trump. Trump, she said on Fox News Sunday, by contrast, “does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward.” But she was censured by Republicans back home in Wyoming and could face a primary challenge, egged on by some of the same lawmakers who tried to bounce her from the leadership team.
Democrats shone a bright spotlight on Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a freshman Georgia Republican associated with QAnon and other conspiracy theories, last week. The House majority stripped Greene of her committee assignments, with some GOP support, saying she also helped incite the Capitol insurrection and her own party’s leadership had failed to act.
Many Republicans on Capitol Hill would like to move on from Trump. “At this juncture, Republicans need to focus on the state of our party, platform, and messaging as we approach the midterms,” said GOP strategist Jon Gilmore. “All too often, Republican’s look to past leaders instead of building the next generation of leadership for our party.”
Trump has remained a prominent part of Democratic messaging since leaving office last month. “There is a need, at some point, to move on,” said a Democratic strategist. “But there is also a strong desire to hold the former president accountable for Jan. 6.”
Impeachment will keep the focus on Trump for the duration of his trial and force Senate Republicans to make choices about how closely tethered they wish to remain to the man who presided over their loss of Congress and the White House but also delivered a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court and made Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin swing states again at the presidential level.
Complicating matters is that Trump is not a party loyalist or someone who plans to end his involvement in politics. That is why some Democrats argue that impeachment remains an appropriate punishment. Unless convicted and subject to further congressional action rendering him ineligible for future public office, Trump is eligible to serve another term under the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution.
Aides say Trump has yet to decide about his political future, noting he is enjoying playing golf and interacting with friends and members at his South Florida clubs — and even being off Twitter, though not by choice. Democrat Grover Cleveland is the only previous president to serve nonconsecutive terms.
Original Author: W. James Antle III