There is a parallel political game going on in Capitol Hill; on one hand is the wrangling on the stimulus bill involving some $1.9 trillion floated by the new US President, Joseph Biden, together with the confirmations of key Cabinet positions; the other has to do with how the US Senate is going to take up the impeachment trial of 45th President Donald Trump.
That Republicans and Democrats have decided on February 8 to start the trial is perhaps a small step of an understanding reached by the two parties and without much haggling. The question now is how aggressively are the Democrats going to stay with the trial given that Trump is unlikely to give up meekly; neither are his cheerleaders and sycophants going to give Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and her team a smooth walk through.
If the Senate trial of the former president in 2020 is anything to go by, the chances ofIn the aftermath of the outrageous assault on Capitol Hill on January 6, a lot of senators getting a conviction a year down the line is between one of three: fat, slim and none. and House Republicans were stunned into disbelief; and at the heat of the emotional moments many came out and spoke against their President at the time for being the chief inciter and organizer of the mob violence that left five persons including a Capitol Hill police officer dead.
But some three weeks down the line, tempers seem to be cooling off; and in spite of key Trump allies in the Senate coming out against their former President— the one time Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnel being a good example—it remains to be seen how many of all these negative comment are actually going to convert into conviction votes. Very few would be the guess.
At the very best it is believed that only some five senators will break from the party and vote for the conviction of Trump. The last time around in 2020, a lone Senator Mitt Romney voted to convict the 45th President. Between 2020 and 2021, only one thing has not changed: it still requires 67 senators to convict Donald Trump; and that number is still elusive today for all that the Democrats may try. It is a tall order to expect 17 Republican Senators to cross over and side with the Democrats even in spite of an over whelming evidence of the former president being a prime instigator of an insurrection. One of the reasons that Democrats are staying with the impeachment process is that they hope to have nothing to do with Trump in 2024.
Heart of hearts some Republican front runners may also want the former president out of the way four years from now, but none of them can forget the fact that for all the hoopla, Trump still got a whopping 74 million plus popular votes; and bettered Biden by one million popular votes in the 12 battleground states put together. And that is a chunk of votes that no one in the Grand Old Party would dismiss easily.
Standing behind Trump at the time of the conviction trial in the Senate sends a message to the Trump political base which is still seen as solid and not showing any signs of cracking up. It is for this reason that potential Republicans for 2024 like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, while fumbling around with words, have not exactly said that they will vote for a conviction.
Before the Democrats embark on a Full Court Press, as they say in the game of basketball, the party would have to take a call on whether a full political offensive is worthwhile given their own stakes in the ball game. From 235 seats in the House in 2018, the Democrats dropped 12 seats in November 2020 to 222 seats; and for a party that was expected to pick up a large number of seats in the seats in the Senate, it managed only four to tie the number at 50-50. Even here, it has to be remembered that the Democrats have only 48 to themselves in a strict sense with two Independents caucusing with them. With 34 Senate seats up for grabs in 2022 and 20 Republicans facing re-election, the Democrat will have to take a call on whether they would want to chip away at the base of support of the Grand Old Party or re-energise it by going after a Trump conviction.
Trump will not be losing sleep over losing his pension or Secret Service protection in the event of a conviction in the Senate. What would trouble him and his minions will be the ban on holding federal offices in the event of a conviction. One of the first things that came out of Washington after Trump left town is his loud thinking on floating a Patriot Party, a second front of the Republicans intending to keep his far right and extremist base in tact. Whether Trump runs under this banner or his family members do so, this is ideally what Democrats must be hopeful about. There is nothing more than the Democrats would want for in 2024 elections, Presidential and Congressional: a three-way fight for votes with a Patriot/ Independent Republican only slicing into the vote bank of the GOP.
There is something for President Biden as well in this impeachment process even as he may give the impression that he is above all this: he needs the support of Republicans in the Senate to get his major policy items like healthcare, immigration and education. It is one thing for Democrats to argue that they can get by the procedural requirements in the Senate, but a person who has spent three and a half decades in that august chamber Biden knows better—that agreement and consensus is any day better than having his Vice President cast the tie-breaking vote every other day!
(The writer is currently a professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the College of Science and Humanities at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai; previously, he was a senior journalist in Washington covering North America and United Nations)