Now that the impeachment trial of Donald Trump has reached its inevitable conclusion, it’s worth asking if it was all worth it. I’d say it was.
First, the Democrats’ case is now an historical record. It was important to document just what happened on January 6th and Trump’s part in it. That was done and done well.
Second, despite all the legal details flying back and forth, the Democrats delivered a knock out punch that everyone can understand. Regardless of just exactly what he said on January 6th, would the insurrection have happened without all the things Trump said and did for the four years leading up to it? Nobody can credibly argue that the answer is ‘yes.’ Take Trump out of the picture and the insurrection never happens.
Third, the process had the effect of widening fissures within the Republican Party. I find it encouraging that 10 House Republicans had the courage to vote to impeach and seven of their Senate colleagues had the guts to vote ‘guilty.’
And I found Sen. Mitch McConnell’s speech after the vote very encouraging. Democrats who blasted him for saying tough things but not voting to convict aren’t seeing the opportunity here. That’s because I believe McConnell spoke for the majority of his caucus. Many of them might have voted to convict if they didn’t mind throwing away their political careers. Like McConnell, they made the practical choice to hold their noses and vote to acquit. But that doesn’t mean they’re not looking for a way to diminish Trump’s influence, namely ongoing investigations and legal proceedings in the states.
That leads to the most intriguing question of all: can the Democrats seize the moment to build a long-term majority? Those seven senators represent 15% of the caucus and, maybe not so coincidentally, Trump has the support of about 85% of the Republican rank and file. So, the question for Democrats is just how much of that 15% of anti-Trump Republicans they can bring over to their side.
By that I don’t mean the politicians themselves. I don’t think you’ll see mass (or any) party defections among the 17 Republicans who voted to impeach or to convict. The numbers just don’t add up for them; you can’t win elections with only 15% of your own party behind you.
But that doesn’t apply to citizen-Republicans. These anti-Trumpsters tend to be suburban, have more years of education and are more likely to be women. Faced with a choice between the party of Trump and a left-center, moderate party of reason, many of them may well go over to the Democrats.
And that could be true even though they still may find many of the party’s positions to be to the left of their liking. On the other hand, if the choice is between a Trump party and a party dominated by left-wing ideologues, they may well throw up their hands and stay in the GOP in hopes of better days to come.
As I’ve pointed out before, the Democrats’ are better off trimming their policy sails as part of a long-term strategy to stay in the majority as opposed to going for broke on big liberal schemes. That’s true for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that it’s the only way to eventually move the Supreme Court back into the mainstream of American life.