Senate Republicans: This trial is going to finish Trump off politically even if we acquit him

It was darkly funny when Lisa Murkowski said this on the record on Wednesday night and it’s even funnier that Republican senators are saying it off the record today.


Does one typically need to speak anonymously to pronounce someone’s political death? Corpses don’t retaliate, do they?

I’ll give Murkowski and her anonymous allies this much: The Capitol riot hurt Trump and the Democrats’ presentation at the trial probably compounded the damage. If we had to rerun the election today, almost certainly he’d end up with fewer votes than he got on November 3. In fact, support for disqualifying him from office is averaging 55 percent across numerous polls, with even 20 percent or so of Republicans supportive of the idea. He’s a weaker candidate at the moment than he was three months ago and it’s entirely self-inflicted.

But does that mean he’ll be a weaker candidate than the Democratic nominee in November 2024, particularly if that nominee is Kamala Harris? Of course not. Elections are binary choices and Americans’ memories are short. Anyone who thinks the trial has finished him off for good is looking for an excuse to argue that acquittal is no big deal because he’s already been kinda sorta disqualified anyway.

“It just makes you realize what an a**hole Donald Trump is,” said one GOP senator after watching day two of the House managers’ presentation…

“Unwittingly, they are doing us a favor. They’re making Donald Trump disqualified to run for president” even if he is acquitted, the senator said…

“This reminded and confirmed and probably added deeper emotion to the view that the president’s involvement in the party, while it brought new people, it’s very damaging to who we are, what we believe and what we stand for — what we believe we stand for,” the second GOP senator said…

A third GOP senator said the facts laid out in the impeachment trial underscore just how difficult it would be for Trump to portray himself as an electable presidential candidate in 2024

A fourth Republican senator agreed that Trump’s power in the party has been dealt a severe blow because of the detailed exposition of his behavior in the run-up to the Capitol attack and his subsequent actions.


Are they really making Trump disqualified to run again? Well … maybe. Here’s the latest poll on that topic, which fits well with the 55 percent figure cited above:

I don’t think 53 percent is the important number there. After all, Trump won the presidency with 46 percent of the vote in 2016 and got within 80,000 votes or so across key swing states of winning it again in 2020 with 47 percent. The key figure is that just 37 percent think he should be allowed to run again, with 38 percent of independents agreeing. Again, that’s a snapshot in time, not indicative of how people would feel in 2024, but clearly Americans are experiencing powerful Trump fatigue if 53-55 percent are willing to have Congress legally prohibit him from another run. Imagine what the numbers would look like if you asked, simply, whether people want to see him run again or not.

But none of this really matters in an era when politics is defined by negative partisanship. In a 50/50 country (well, maybe 51/48) in which voters on each side are motivated chiefly by fear of letting the other side hold power, all one needs to do to be viable nationally is win a primary. And Trump is a mortal lock to do that in 2024 if he decides he wants it. Once he’s the GOP nominee again, the old 2016 songbook will be dusted off to convince centrist voters that he’s the lesser of two evils on the ballot. It’s another Flight 93 election, we’ll be told, with the country unable to survive four more years of Democrats in power, so get over what happened at the Capitol in 2021 already and take back America. That pitch is apt to get him 46-47 percent of the vote again. And if that share is distributed efficiently across swing states, anything can happen on election night.


Which makes me wonder why on earth John Thune is out there entertaining the possibility of censuring Trump after (or in lieu of?) acquittal:

Asked about censuring Trump, Thune indicated that proposals are floating around but noted that it would need to be “effective.”

“I know there are a couple of resolutions out there. … I’ve seen a couple of resolutions at least that I think could attract some support,” Thune told reporters.

Pressed if he was saying the resolutions could get support from him, he added: “Yeah.”

Why would any Republican want to vote on censure, knowing that Trump’s fans will be furious at seeing him reprimanded even if he’s acquitted at his trial? Liz Cheney’s impeachment vote was effectively a censure vote since it wasn’t decisive in the House and won’t elicit a conviction in the Senate, and yet Cheney has been marked for political death by MAGAworld. Now here’s Thune basically encouraging Democrats to force Senate Republicans to either vote for censure and join Cheney on the target list or vote no and leave swing voters bristling at their cowardice in refusing to even wrist-slap Trump. It’s not even a good vote for Thune himself, who’s on Trump’s sh*t list right now but might end up wriggling his way off of it by voting to acquit at this trial, as he’s expected to do. Put censure in front of him, though, and then he has a tough decision with Trump and his very Republican home state of South Dakota watching closely.


All I can think is that Thune believes voting to censure Trump would let some of his colleagues who are up for reelection in 2022 “balance” their vote to acquit him at the trial. But which senators want to do that, specifically? Marco Rubio? Rubio’s not going to vote to censure or he’ll be primaried in Florida. Ron Johnson? Johnson won’t do it either, even without the threat of a primary. Other purple-staters like Pat Toomey are retiring and don’t need to worry about it. So why does Thune want this vote? Censure is something Democrats should be interested in, to force Republicans to show whether they’re willing to offer even a weak rebuke to Trump for his actions before January 6. It’s not something the GOP should want.

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