On Feb. 13 former President Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate 57-43 on charges of
inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. Trump now holds the dubious distinction of being the only
president to be impeached twice and the only former president in American history to be brought to trial before the Senate.
While the trial and its gut-wrenching recounting of the events of Jan. 6 may have served as a stinging rebuke of Trump’s legacy, it ultimately fell far short of the decisive indictment Democrats had hoped for. In many ways, Trump’s second impeachment was simply a grim confirmation of his earlier statement that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and be no worse for wear electorally.
Although this was the most bipartisan presidential impeachment trial in American history, Trump has nevertheless enjoyed remarkably consistent Republican support. The ultimate outcome of the trial was never in doubt, and every one of the handful of Republicans who crossed party lines and voted to convict have been censured by the Republican party in their home state. While many on both sides of the aisle had doubtless hoped this trial would mark the end of the Trump era, their hopes have begun to look increasingly fanciful. In reality, there has never been much reason to think that the political world has seen the last of Trump.
The trial, however, did much to highlight the extent to which the Republican party’s fate is bound up with the former president. In contrast to the House Manager’s incisive and polished presentation, Trump attorney Bruce Castor opened the defense with a bumbling and meandering speech that prompted one-time Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz to remark in a Newsmax interview, “There is no argument. I have no idea what he’s doing. I have no idea why he’s saying what he’s saying.”
The unpreparedness of the defense was hardly surprising, however, as Trump chose to replace his previous attorneys in the 11th hour, giving his legal team a little over a week to prepare for a trial on the national stage. Nevertheless, even judged by laxer standards than the prosecution was held to, the defense’s presentation was strikingly inept. From an error-strewn initial brief which notably misspelled “United States,” to an embarrassing incident in which a legal scholar heavily cited by the defense publicly disavowed their arguments on Twitter, it is little wonder that Trump was reportedly screaming at his television by the end of the trial’s first day.
In short, the former president’s legal team left Senate Republicans little room to hide. Other than a handful of die-hard Trump devotees, few Republicans made anything more than a half-hearted effort to defend the former president’s actions on Jan. 6. Most shielded themselves with process arguments, asserting that they could be justified in voting to acquit regardless of the evidence presented because the trial itself was unconstitutional.
In a speech given shortly after the trial concluded, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went so far as to say that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the storming of the capital, but that he had voted to acquit on procedural grounds. Even this display of servility, however, was not enough to satiate Trump. The former president called McConnell a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” and urged the Republican party to oust him from his leadership role.
By hastily rejecting perhaps the final opportunity to assert an independent party identity, Senate Republicans have chosen to double down on their party’s Trump dependence, making it painfully clear that while Trump may have a political future without the Republican party, there is no Republican party without Trump.
Max Bradley ’22 is from Columbia, MO.
His majors are philosophy and political science.