Trump escapes conviction but even his allies say he’s damagedFebruary 14, 2021
Donald Trump was acquitted in his second impeachment trial on Saturday.
What comes next for the 45th president is anybody’s guess.
Uncertainty looms over nearly every aspect of the former president’s post-impeachment political future — from the causes he will embrace, to his level of influence inside the GOP, to the possibility he could face criminal charges or see diminished voter appetite for a potential comeback bid in 2024.
In a statement following his acquittal, Trump hinted that something was on the horizon. But there were vanishingly few details about what it would be.
“In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!” Trump said.
For many Republicans, the uncertainty about Trump’s future is equal parts harrowing, provocative and paralyzing. The former president has promised to help the GOP retake the House in the midterm elections next fall but also wants revenge against 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him in the lower chamber. It is assumed he will reserve similar animus for the seven Senate Republicans who voted for his conviction on Saturday.
Trump has vowed to pursue statewide election reforms after insisting a second term was “stolen” from him. But in doing so, he threatens a massive schism in the Republican party, which is already deeply fractured by his false accusations of election fraud.
Trump allies are unsure how much success he’ll see in any of these ventures, particularly on the heels of an emotional impeachment trial that may have deeply wounded his reputation.
“100% [the impeachment trial] impacts Trump in a negative way not a positive way,” said former Trump adviser Bryan Lanza, suggesting the former president’s outsized sway over the GOP base has already started to wane.
“The world moved beyond him and now that he doesn’t have Twitter, it’s moving even more quickly,” Lanza said.
But others argue Trump’s acquittal will only cement his position in the party and send a message that Trump — and Trumpism — is the predominant force in GOP politics.
“It won’t change his shot for 2024,” said a former campaign aide. “His base will be emboldened and his detractors will hate him even more.”
Over the course of Trump’s second impeachment trial, House managers painted the former president as a reckless leader whose promotion of conspiracy theories, penchant for using violent language and unfounded claims of election fraud incited a mob that left the U.S. Capitol ransacked and threatened to upend the country’s democratic system of governance.
In the end, it was enough to convince seven Republican Senators to convict — far short of the 17 needed for a guilty verdict. But while Trump and his team may have claimed exoneration, they are not off the hook.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted to acquit Trump, citing his concerns over the constitutionality of impeaching a former president. Yet in a speech following his vote, he made clear his disdain for Trump’s behavior and his view that Trump should face consequences for the ghastly scene that unfolded on Capitol Hill.
“Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office,” said McConnell. “He didn’t get away with anything yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.”
Without the legal protection against federal criminal prosecution afforded sitting presidents, Trump faces a web of investigations into his conduct in office and business practices beforehand. Just this week, Georgia prosecutors announced a new probe into Trump’s myriad attempts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results, including during a threatening phone call on Jan. 2 with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The investigation could open the door for criminal charges against the former president by state and local authorities.
Trump could also face criminal charges in Washington, D.C., if the city’s attorney general, Karl Racine, decides to pursue a case against Trump for his alleged role in the Capitol riots. Racine was reportedly weighing the move even before the Senate voted to acquit Trump on Saturday.
Trump has framed his post-presidential legal exposure as remnants of “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country” — a phrase he also used to describe the Senate impeachment trial on Saturday.
“It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree,” Trump said.
It was a message the Republican National Committee used in a fundraising message on Saturday that sought to project party unity even as Trump failed to secure the support of every Republican in the Senate.
“ACQUITTED AT LAST! The biggest political circus of ALL TIME is finally over and we want to send a message that the Republican Party is STRONGER THAN EVER BEFORE,” read a message.
That may seem like wishful thinking now. But perhaps not entirely so. The day before the acquittal vote, it was reported that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) would be meeting with Trump in the near future to discuss his role in the GOP and the future of the party.