The pending prosecution of former President Donald Trump has Republicans caught between a rock and a hard place as they look to chart their political future, strategists say.
“A number of Republicans don’t want to take this vote because they don’t want to offend the (former) president and his supporters,” Republican strategist Ryan Williams said. “Voting to convict has the potential to hurt you in a primary. Voting to acquit him has the potential to hurt you in a general election. … You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Not a single U.S. House Republican voted in favor of Trump’s initial impeachment in 2019. Former Massachusetts governor and current Utah U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney was the sole Republican senator to vote in favor of conviction the first time.
But after the deadly U.S. Capitol riot in January, 10 GOP representatives joined their Democratic colleagues in voting in favor of impeaching Trump for “incitement of insurrection.”
Five GOP senators — Romney and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — then voted against a Republican-led attempt to dismiss Trump’s second impeachment trial as unconstitutional.
That procedural move could foreshadow more GOP senators voting to convict Trump this time around. But Williams said numbers likely won’t add up to the 17 Republicans who would need to join the Democrats to reach the two-thirds majority necessary to make a conviction stick.
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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., seemed to echo that sentiment when he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that “the outcome is not really in doubt.”
Still, Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said Democrats want to forge ahead with the trial in part to “create a divide within the Republican base between traditional GOP voters and Trump voters, because they are concerned that if the GOP gets its act together, that (the Democrats are) probably going to lose the House and could conceivably lose the Senate.”
Many Republicans have seized on the notion that trying Trump would be unconstitutional because he’s no longer in office — the same argument presented by his legal team.
Trump’s attorneys also argue his conduct surrounding the Capitol riot is protected by the First Amendment.
But a group of more than 140 constitutional lawyers and scholars — including Harvard’s Laurence Tribe and several others from the Boston area — dismissed the First Amendment defense as “legally frivolous” in a letter posted by the New York Times. And they said the First Amendment “does not prevent the Senate from convicting President Trump and disqualifying him from holding future office.”
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