Just 15 percent of GOP respondents support conviction, but Trump seems to have slimmed his party’s support considerably: Thousands of former Republican voters changed their registration in January, choosing instead to identify as Democrats and independents in swing states like Pennsylvania and Arizona. That suggests voters are imposing accountability on Trump and his party however they can. Senators have the power to impose a more immediate punishment, by prohibiting Trump from running for office again, and thus depriving him of the political leverage that goes along with that possibility.
Again, that probably won’t happen. But the trial is still necessary — even if it doesn’t result in a guilty verdict — simply because failing to even try is wrong. To accept the inevitability of Trump’s impunity is to surrender to cynicism, to give up on the notion of ever getting justice for the grievous wrongdoing of our leaders, to shrug at an act that took dead aim at the heart of democracy. That just encourages the next wannabe authoritarian with designs on stealing an election.
Importantly, Senate Republicans who will vote for acquittal are not defending Trump on the merits. They’re offering up constitutional dodges, engaging in whataboutism, or indulging in fresh rounds of conspiracy-mongering. For the most part, they aren’t saying that Donald Trump is innocent of inciting insurrection. This week’s trial puts them on the record. Let them explain — to their constituents, to the nation, to the judgment of history — why they’re willing to give Trump a pass for intentionally doing injury to the constitution they are sworn to defend and uphold. The impeachment trial may not end in a guilty verdict, but it will bring clarity.