Bloomberg: McConnell declining to whip for acquittal in Trump trial

The conscience argument does not bode well for Donald Trump, at least when coming from Mitch McConnell. But potentially even worse is the other argument that Bloomberg reports the Senate Minority Leader is making to his caucus. The constitutional argument has been settled, Bloomberg’s sources say McConnell is now arguing, and that should have no bearing on the decision to convict or acquit.

That sounds like someone’s fully off the Trump train — but will it signal how McConnell himself will vote?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is signaling to fellow Republicans that the final vote on Donald Trump’s impeachment is matter of conscience and that senators who disputed the constitutionality of the trial could still vote to convict the former president, according to three people familiar with his thinking.

The Kentucky Republican has also suggested that he hasn’t made up his mind how he’ll vote, two of the people said, even though he voted Tuesday to declare it unconstitutional for the Senate to hear the case against a former president.

That position is starkly different than McConnell’s declaration at the start of Trump’s first impeachment trial last year that he did not consider himself an impartial juror.

Allahpundit touched on this briefly at the end of his previous post, but this is significant enough to drill further down into the implications. McConnell has to understand that this is no risk-free strategy. House Republicans threatened to boot Liz Cheney out of leadership for her impeachment vote, which had no impact on its passage, although she beat back that attempt handily in the end. If McConnell votes to convict Trump and manages to bring along another dozen or so fence-sitters with him on the basis of this argument, he’ll incur wrath from the Trumpists within the GOP on a scale exponentially more intense than anything Cheney experienced.

Will that argument actually move any fence-sitters, however? It’s not working on any Senate Republicans when House Democrat impeachment managers are making it. Marco Rubio appears to be a hard no on that argument, anyway:

The question here will be whether McConnell votes to convict, and how much draw that will have among his caucus members. It seems pretty clear that Democrats already have five or six Republicans as strong possibilities to vote in favor of conviction, mainly those who are already inclined to oppose Trump or are retiring from the Senate before the next election. Would McConnell give others enough political cover to swing against Trump? Or would they resent a McConnell vote to convict so much that his caucus ejects him from leadership?

There’s a third possibility, one that makes a lot more sense — especially since this has become a PR battle anyway. McConnell may well be releasing the whip on this in the full knowledge that it won’t matter anyway. The votes are already set on this question; whipping won’t move the ayes, and not whipping won’t reduce the nays. By making sure this gets out into the media, though, McConnell is setting up a plausible argument that these votes (either way!) are now principled and based on real constitutional concerns, rather than just political calculations. I suspect that McConnell’s playing hardball here for the longer game, although I also suspect that he doesn’t mind making Trump sweat it out. At all.