Why the stakes are high for the Republicans
While Joe Biden was being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, his predecessor Donald Trump was already on his way to Florida, leaving Washington as it has never been seen before.
The nation’s capital had become a military fortress, with 25,000 National Guard members flown in from all over the country to secure the peaceful transfer of power and prevent any possible attack by a mob like the one that stormed Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. There were more US troops in Washington than in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria combined.
Trump has moved out of the White House, leaving behind a divided nation and a defeated political party.
A week after the invasion of the US Congress and in an unprecedented move, the House of Representatives voted by 232 votes to 197 to impeach Trump for a second time for allegedly inciting the rioters. The GOP suffered a setback when 10 Republican representatives, including the third-highest-ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney, voted to impeach their own president in the last week of his term.
In the past, Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton had been impeached by the House and then acquitted by the Senate, just like Trump’s first impeachment in February 2020. However, if it goes ahead, he will become the first former president to face an impeachment trial after leaving his post.
The ball is now in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's court to pass on the single article of impeachment to the Senate so that the trial can begin. “Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the presidential election results were fraudulent and should not be accepted. He then repeated these claims and willfully made statements to the crowd that encouraged and foreseeably resulted in lawless action at the Capitol, leading to violence and loss of life,” the article stated.
The question now is how will the trial unfold in the Senate? To convict the former president in the evenly split, 100-seat chamber, a two-thirds majority would be needed, which means that Democrats would need to convince 17 Republicans to vote with them. Nevertheless, being convicted does not mean that Trump could not run again in 2024, unless the senators also decide to hold a second vote, which would only require a simple majority to pass, to bar him from holding any public office for the rest of his life.
In his taped farewell address, which was released on his last evening as president, Trump indicated to his supporters that his political career was not over. He ended his address by saying: “The movement we started is only just beginning.” This statement opened the door to speculation that Trump was planning to run for president again in 2024, considering that he left the White House with 74 million supporters who voted to re-elect him.
A Senate trial would not be useful for the Biden administration, since the Democrats have a lot on their plate in the next couple of months. The new president will need time for his Cabinet nominees to be confirmed and to pass key legislation that will be a prelude to his agenda for the next four years. In a statement issued by Biden following the House vote, he voiced concern that the impeachment process might affect his plans to immediately start working on urgent issues in the service of his nation.
Even though Trump failed to act when the nation needed him to protect the symbol of democracy that allowed him to be in office, a Senate trial would not heal the country and would, in fact, further divide it.
Impeaching the former president would make it difficult for the two parties to work together in the two chambers, which would cause more harm to the people in the middle of a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.
It is a tough decision for the Republicans to take, since it would certainly intensify the gap between the establishment and the Trump wing in the GOP. Instead, the party should be starting to lay out new strategies so it can change the congressional equation in the midterm elections and take back the House and the Senate in two years’ time. The bottom line is that, with or without Trump, the Republicans need to overcome their differences to unite, save the GOP and defeat the majority party.
Could the Republican Party ignore a vast percentage of its base and survive without Trump’s supporters? The former president has reportedly realized that his power in Washington was beginning to crumble so he made it clear he is thinking of forming the new “Patriot Party,” taking his supporters away from the GOP, which would be a catastrophic move for the Republicans.
A Senate trial of Trump would not be useful for the Biden administration, since the Democrats have a lot on their plate in the next couple of months.
In his final act of clemency a few hours prior to his departure from the White House, Trump pardoned his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, dropping the criminal charges he was facing over his alleged role in a scheme to defraud people who donated toward the cost of building a border wall between the US and Mexico. Bannon played a vital role in Trump’s first presidential campaign in 2016 and he would need him to lobby and promote the new party if it was to run as a third party against both the Democrats and the Republicans.
The stakes are high for the GOP and it might take more than two years to bury the hatchet and recover from its losses. The Republicans will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
- Dalia Al-Aqidi is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy. She is a former Republican congressional candidate. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi