The GOP Sorts Itself Out -- Putting Defense of Pres. Trump Behind Them Is Different Than Putting Pres. Trump Behind Them

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The only substantive issue presented by the Senate Trial of Pres. Trump in the second impeachment initiated against him by the House Democrats was the question of whether he would be disqualified from running for President again in 2024.

But failing to achieve a 2/3 vote to sustain the House’s charge in the Articles of Impeachment, he remains eligible to run again in 2024 — should he choose to do so.

Seven GOP Senators joined with the Democrats in attempting to block Pres. Trump from returning to Washington.  All but one of the votes was predictable — Richard Burr (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.).

Burr and Toomey are retiring at the end of their terms and will not have to stand for re-election with this vote on their records.

Susan Collins was re-elected in 2020, and I suspect she won’t run again in 2026 — but even if she does, voting against Donald Trump probably does not hurt her in Maine, even in a primary.

Pres. Trump is already on record as promising to campaign on behalf of any Republican who will run against Lisa Murkowski in 2022, so she had nothing to lose in voting against him.  She’s already lost whatever support she might have had at any time among Trump supporters.

Sasse was just re-elected in 2020 and had become more of a hard-edged Trump critic since the election than he was before the election.  I’m sure he’s counting on the fact that Pres. Trump will not again be President in 2026 when he is next up for re-election.  Sasse did outpoll Trump in Nebraska in 2020 by around 30,000 votes, but I don’t think Sasse wants any part of a primary fight with a Trump-supported MAGA candidate.  It would have been better for Sasse if Trump were to be blocked from returning to the White House in 2024.

Mitt Romney, along with John McCain, never got past the personal affront he suffered when Pres. Trump rampaged through the GOP primaries in 2016 on a platform that indicted the three prior GOP candidates for President for their fecklessness and dishonest approach to policy.  Romney was one of those three, and he suffered the later indignity of Trump publicly “courting” him as a possible pick for Secretary of State when the reality was that Romney stood a better chance of being President of North Korea than having any prominent role in a Trump Administration.

That leaves us only Bill Cassidy in Louisiana.  I suspect there are fewer deep MAGA electorates than the GOP in Louisiana.

Before Cassidy was first elected to the Louisiana legislature as a Republican in 2006, he was a lifelong Democrat to that point and had supported Michael Dukakis for president in 1988, donated to Senator Paul Tsongas’s 1992 presidential campaign, and to Louisiana Democrats Governor Kathleen Blanco in 2003 and 2004 and Senator Mary Landrieu in 2002.  According to Cassidy, he switched parties after the extinction of conservative Democrats and because of his frustration with the bureaucracy and inefficiency of the public hospital system.

Cassidy was just reelected in November, so he does not have to worry about running again until 2026.  But even if he gets that far — and he chooses to run again — its a near certainty that Rep. Steve Scalise will enter the race against him, and take the seat away.

Another question going forward is the future of Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader.  The Senate leadership process is a hidebound process trapped in tradition. McConnell’s greatest strength right now is the lack of a sure-fire replacement from within the leadership ranks. He was just re-elected to another six-year term.  The GOP Whip is John Thune of SD, another Senator without strong support from the MAGA constituency.  After Thune is Conference Chair John Barrasso from Wyoming.

The Senate has always harbored a significant group of members who were never committed to supporting the agenda of Pres. Trump.  Their views were a combination of personal dislike and policy disagreement on measures such as projecting US influence abroad, trade policy, and spending.  The Senate represents the historical “establishment” of the GOP more than any other institution in Washington and Pres. Trump came to DC to take a wrecking ball to the establishment if he could.

The 43 GOP Senators who voted to acquit are mostly in three camps — 1) they are up for election in 2022, and want to avoid a MAGA challenge in the next 8-12 months which will put them in a difficult primary fight; 2) they are up for election in 2024, and without the certainty of barring Pres. Trump from the ballot, they didn’t want to stand for re-election in a contest where Pres. Trump might be on the ballot and pointing out the fact that the GOP Senator in the state voted to prevent him from running again, and 3) if Pres. Trump does not run again in 2024, they want to be in a position to have Pres. Trump back them for the nomination with the MAGA base.

The Senate is all about self-preservation.  The vote today had little or no concern of the merits of the question presented to the Senate.  Each GOP Senator read the tea leaves through the lens of his/her own self-interest.

75 million voters came out of the 2020 election disappointed, and a significant majority of them feel they were cheated by the Democrats and the media.

Four years of suffering at the hands of the Biden Administration and the Democrat party is going to make those same voters miss Pres. Trump more — not less.  He won’t be George W. Bush, who no one was pining for during the first Obama term.  But those voters wanted a second term for Donald Trump and it was denied to them.

Donald Trump is not in the rear view mirror of the Senate Republicans.  Forty-three of them recognized the silhouette of him on the highway up ahead, and acted accordingly.

The GOP’s vote today was a rollcall as to who in the Senate fears the backlash from the MAGA base, and who does not.   Nothing more.