Donald Trump impeachment: Days after ex-US president's acquittal, Republicans ponder 'battle for soul of party'

Republicans remain in a bind. Those who have openly opposed the ex-president have faced fierce blowback from the party's base. Many remain fearful of his tendency to exact payback

Agence France-Presse February 16, 2021 09:49:01 IST
Donald Trump impeachment: Days after ex-US president's acquittal, Republicans ponder 'battle for soul of party'

File photo of Donald Trump. AP

Washington: A day after the Senate acquitted Donald Trump in a historic second impeachment trial, America was weighing how long a shadow the former president will cast: over his party, and over the country.

The Senate on Saturday voted 57-43 in favour of convicting Trump for inciting the 6 January assault on the US Capitol.

It was a stinging rebuke, with seven Republicans joining all Democrats in the most bipartisan impeachment vote ever, but it fell far short of the 67 votes needed for conviction.

With Trump hinting afterward at a possible political future, even as other Republicans said it was time to move on, the stark divide facing the party was on full view.

One frequent Trump critic, Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, on Sunday predicted a "real battle for the soul of the Republican Party."

"This is not over," he told CNN, adding he would have voted to convict Trump.

'Need to work with Trump

Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana was one of the seven Republicans to vote to convict; he predicted Sunday that Trump's still-strong hold on Republicans would fade.

"I think his force wanes...  I think our leadership will be different going forward," he told ABC's This Week.

Several Republicans, even while voting to acquit Trump, expressed dismay over his role on 6 January and in the weeks before, as he stoked anger with false claims the November election was stolen from him.

But one of the former president's fiercest defenders, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, insisted Sunday that Trump, with his fervent following, retains a huge political role as the party looks ahead to the 2022 midterm elections.

He called Trump the "most vibrant member of the Republican Party," adding, "We need to work with President Trump: we can't do it without him."

Despite Trump's acquittal, Democrats insisted Sunday they had achieved a moral and political victory by securing some Republican votes in the Senate trial while permanently tarring Trump's name and clearing the way for President Joe Biden to quickly advance his agenda.

"We clearly won in the court of public opinion," Representative Don Beyer told CNN.

Party base

Trump has flirted with the idea of running for the White House again in 2024. A conviction Saturday would have likely barred him from holding federal office again.

Merely hinting at a possible run will keep him in political conversations and allow him to continue raising large amounts of money.

Yet, a number of Republicans have distanced themselves from the former president, who after all lost the election to Biden by seven million votes while also seeing his party lose control of the Senate.

Several Republicans are lining up to seek the presidential nomination in 2024, and they are eager to leave him in the party's past.

One of them, Nikki Haley, a former governor who served Trump as ambassador to the United Nations, was blunt in an interview posted Friday by Politico, saying Trump was increasingly isolated and had "lost any sort of political viability."

But Republicans who have openly opposed Trump have faced fierce blowback from the party's base, and many remain fearful of his tendency to exact payback from critics.

Trump has been deprived, however, of a key weapon he used against political enemies: Twitter. It is unclear whether he can generate the same levels of enthusiasm among Republicans as he did in the past.

And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who voted against conviction, saying a former president could not be impeached, nonetheless identified another major challenge facing Trump.

In a blistering attack Saturday, McConnell said "there's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events" of 6 January.

He stressed that as a civilian Trump faces potential civil and criminal legal vulnerability on a range of issues, adding: "He didn't get away with anything yet."

As the party's de facto leader now, McConnell seemed determined to quash any future role for Trump and try to guide Republicans back in a more traditional direction.

Meantime, some members of both parties have called for creation of a bipartisan commission to examine the 6 January events, not unlike the panel that examined the 11 September 2001 attacks, which could further tarnish Trump's reputation.

Trump for now remains secluded in his Florida club.

In his statement Saturday, he welcomed the verdict, denouncing the proceedings as "yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country."

He then added: "We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future."

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