The second impeachment of President Trump on Wednesday wasn’t actually about Trump or history or the insurrection. Or even the fact that it was the most bipartisan impeachment vote in American history.
During the two hours of floor speeches and the subsequent vote, it was clear the historic occasion was becoming about something else: the future of the Republican Party.
As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saw things, the impeachment trial could be a huge gift to the Republicans. McConnell reportedly told associates he was pleased that Trump was being impeached and saw it as a way to rid him from the GOP.
While Trump is talented at creating a devoted following and getting himself elected once, he was an absolute failure as a leader of the party. In just four years as president, Republicans lost governorships, the US House, the US Senate, and the White House.
And along the way, Trump was an unreliable partner in legislating by constantly changing his mind on legislation he had already signed off on. Out of office, Trump could remain a real pain for Republicans. Unencumbered from the need to pass legislation or build consensus, he can simply slam anything Republicans want to do from the sidelines. (Then again, it is unclear how he does it without his Twitter account.)
So on Wednesday, with Trump at the weakest point in his political life, House Republicans had the chance to try and rid themselves of his power, even if it meant also divorcing the party’s political base. But they didn’t.
Instead, of the 211 Republicans in the House, only 10 voted to join Democrats in impeaching him. (Sure, it was the larger than the five Democrats who voted to impeach Bill Clinton. When Andrew Johnson was impeached, no members of his party voted to do so, just like the first time Trump was impeached.) It’s worth noting that one of them, Liz Cheney, is the third most powerful Republican in the House and angling to be House Speaker. She is making a very different bet on Trump than current House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who voted against impeachment and sought a commission to investigate Trump’s actions instead. But most of the Republicans who spoke during the impeachment debate rejected the notion that Trump did anything wrong at all beyond “political speech.”
When the votes were tallied, it may not have been all that surprising to see Republicans in their corner with Trump. What happens in the Senate remains unclear. Though McConnell was reportedly pleased about impeachment, on Wednesday he objected to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s plan to convene the Senate in an emergency session to begin Trump’s trial before his term ends Jan. 20.
If Trump is not removed, House Republicans will have helped ensure Trump will still be around as a major factor in party politics after he leaves office. If they think he is simply going to just fade away — and he likely won’t — they may look back and regret their vote Wednesday.