Commentary

The GOP is using the impeachment to try to wash away the stench of Trump. It won’t work.

Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump storm the US Capitol
Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump storm the US CapitolPhoto: Shutterstock

For a man who loves superlatives, President Donald Trump is sure going to hate this one: the only American president to have been impeached twice.

The first attempt to remove Trump, over his attempt to strongarm the president of Ukraine into investigating then-potential campaign rival now President-elect Joe Biden, was doomed to failure after the GOP presented a united front. This time, though, the cracks are beginning to show, with ten Republicans in the House voting for the resolution.

Related: Former head of gay Republican group spotted cheering on Donald Trump at White House

Chief among them was Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president and number three in the Republican leadership. Her stinging rebuke of Trump gave other Republicans cover and made her an immediate target for Trump loyalists.

The other strategic leak that helped fuel momentum was the word that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) believed Trump had committed impeachable offenses. Without McConnell twisting arms, the odds of Trump’s actual conviction in the Senate rose substantially. (As a reminder, Mitt Romney was the sole Republican to vote to convict Trump the first time.)

Apparently, after four years of Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors, it took a direct attack on the Capitol with the threat of assassination at the hands of the mob he incited, to convince a minority of Republicans that perhaps the president was unfit for office. Sadly, the GOP margin could have been larger, but some members reportedly feared for their lives and the lives of their families if they did the right thing.

The impeachment vote is as much about the Republican party as it is about Trump.

Trump has been a known quantity ever since he announced his candidacy, and nothing he has done to date – including inciting a mob to overturn election results – are in any way out of character. If anything, the fact that Republicans failed to stand up to him in the first impeachment emboldened Trump. He believed that he would never be held accountable for anything he would do.

But threatening violence against members of Congress and Trump’s own vice president was a bridge too far, at least for a minority of House Republicans. Still, the fact remains that Trump crossed many other lines before and the party went along with hardly a peep. Those who objected even modestly, like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), saw their political careers evaporate.

Let’s give the Republicans who finally found a spine some credit. Impeachment is not an easy vote, and those who did decide Trump was a threat to the nation deserve some credit for standing up for principles, no matter how belatedly.

At the same time, there’s no getting around the fact that the impeachment vote is also the party’s effort to wash away the stench that Trump has on the GOP.

For example, McConnell’s interest in impeachment is (predictably for McConnell) primarily political. According to The New York Times, McConnell “believes that Democrats’ move to impeach him will make it easier to purge Mr. Trump from the party.”

That’s because Trump is a drag on Republicans’ electoral chances. McConnell will soon be the Senate Minority Leader because Trump made the Georgia Senate races about him. The results: two Democrats were elected, giving the Democrats control of the Senate.

Trump is also the first president since Herbert Hoover, also a Republican, to preside over the loss of the White House and both houses of Congress. McConnell is all about power, and he sees Trump actively drains power away from the GOP brand.

At the same time, Trump is the GOP brand, at least right now. Trump loyalists in the House firmly believe that he remains the future of the party and that they will succeed in hitching their ambitions to him. That was certainly the calculation that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) made in challenging the election results.  The battle between the two sides of the party will be epic and one that determines its future for decades.

That’s because, without Trump, the GOP has no direction. For the past four years, the party has largely been doing whatever Trump wanted.

At the rally before last week’s insurrection. Don Jr. told the crowd, “This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party!” The impeachment vote proves that’s true.

It’s not judicial appointments and lower taxes that are hallmarks of the party. It’s white nationalism.

Even if a significant number of Senate Republicans vote to convict Trump, the fact remains that it’s too little, too late. A lethal insurrection took place at the incitement of the president. If that’s what it takes to finally rouse your conscience, there wasn’t much conscience there to begin with.

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