A very messy impeachment
Donald Trump's second impeachment trial kicks off Tuesday, just a year after he was acquitted in the US Senate over his 2019 dealings with the Ukrainians to try and find dirt on Joe Biden's family. The former president is now charged with inciting the US Capitol insurrection.
A majority of Senate Republicans have already opposed the constitutionality of the process, making another acquittal all but assured. So, why does it matter at all this time? Here are three questions to ponder.
Is it worth the time and trouble? With the country still grappling with the twin crises of the pandemic and its economic fallout, impeaching a former president who's already been voted out of power strikes many as a time-consuming exercise with a preordained outcome. Some lawmakers fear the trial will distract Congress from taking swift action on more urgent priorities, like ramping up COVID vaccinations or passing badly-needed stimulus relief for businesses and individuals.
Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time, but past experience shows it rarely does. Also, if Dems had waited much longer, they would've lost the political momentum to hold Trump accountable while the events of January 6 are still fresh in the memory of the American people — and especially their own voters.
Recent polls show that a majority of Americans (52 percent) believe the former president should be impeached for his actions leading up to the Capitol riot, although voters from the two parties are sharply divided: on average almost 89 percent of Democrats support removing Trump, compared to less than 14 percent of Republicans.
What do the Democrats stand to lose, and possibly win? Even if the trial is as speedy as the Democrats say it'll be, they'll need to spend at least some political capital on calling witnesses, holding key votes, and negotiating the entire process with the GOP. This time the Democrats are in control, but with the slimmest of majorities.
While the Biden administration continues to ride high on above-par approval ratings, congressional Democrats will not enjoy the same honeymoon period. They need to deliver immediately on President Biden's agenda, and many priority issues — such as legislation on climate change and immigration — will require bipartisan support. If the trial is conducted in what is perceived to be a highly partisan way, the Senate Democrats may lose the five moderate Republicans who have so far expressed support for the process.
On the other hand, getting Republicans on the record either defending Trump or simply voting to acquit provides the Dems with more fodder to attack vulnerable Senate Republicans in the 2022 midterms, where Democrats will be defending less seats and aim to flip several states in a map that's looking increasingly purple.
How will impeachment affect the GOP's post-Trump future? Unless 17 Republican senators unexpectedly turn on Trump, the former president will escape conviction (and a subsequent permanent ban on holding public office). That means he'll not only bear no official responsibility for his role in egging on the mob — he will see himself as again vindicated, in a stronger position than he was in a month ago to influence the future of the Republican Party, and free to run in 2024.
We've barely heard from Trump since he was banned from Twitter and other social media platforms after his inflammatory speech right before the Capitol was stormed. His standing among traditional Republicans took a hit days later when 10 GOP lawmakers voted to impeach him in the House, but the former president quickly recovered and still commands cult-like loyalty from the base of the party.
Once the second "not guilty" verdict is handed down, Trump will have won a major battle in the ongoing GOP civil war.
Both sides have much at stake, but... The choice for Democrats was clear — it was never about whether to impeach but rather when. For the GOP, however, Trump's impeachment 2.0 could well be a make-or-break moment that determines whether the party's future remains tied to the former president for the next few years.