Of all the senators who voted in the impeachment trial of former President Trump, the most curious of all is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In terms of Trump’s alleged culpability in fomenting the January 6th Capitol Hill riot – or insurrection as they like to call it — no one was more definitive in declaring the President’s guilt than was McConnell. His condemnation was as adamant as the Democrat House Managers who pressed the case.
Yet, McConnell voted to acquit Trump – along with 45 other members of his 50-member Senate Republican caucus. McConnell stated that his vote was ONLY because of his belief that the post-Trump presidency impeachment and trial was unconstitutional. Or at least should be.
Mitch McConnell is a very smart man – and very politically savvy.
Yet to the average citizen his seemingly bifurcated statement and action appear bewildering. After all, there have been impeachments of public officials after leaving office without any objection – although never a President. The differences between the offices should not make a difference in the principle.
In many ways, the Supreme Court has never determined the constitutionality of a post-tenure impeachment. Without such a declaration, the constitutionality is a matter of opinion. And there may be reason why the Supreme Court has not stepped in.
The Constitution – and the Supreme Court – give the Congress wide authority to set its own rules.
It is up to the Senate whether it is constitutional to impeach and try a public official after leaving office. Prior to the opening of the Trump trial, that question was put before the vote. By a 56 to 44 margin, the Senators decided that such after-the-fact impeachments were, indeed, legal and constitutional.
Since the constitutionality of the Trump impeachment trial was declared constitutional by the Senate – and not overridden by the Supreme Court — it made little to no difference whether McConnell voted to acquit or convict Trump. His vote had no impact on the issue of constitutionality.
The Trump case further weakened McConnell’s claim that post-term impeachments and trials are unconstitutional. McConnell himself postponed any trial until after Trump was out of office.
On the other hand, Mitch McConnell was right to do so. Democrats were hoping to have the same speedy kangaroo-court trial that they had conducted in their House impeachment. No witnesses, no opportunity for a defense. By any standard, there was no time for a PROPER impeachment and trial before the end of the Trump Presidency. Rushing it through was an abhorrent injustice to – and political abuse of – the impeachment process.
Given his vote to acquit, why was McConnell soooooo emphatic in his declaration of Trump’s guilt? Would it not have been more politically savvy to issue a more moderate statement – such as:
“I believe that Trump’s statements may have some impact on the crowd – and may well have encouraged some to take up violence – I cannot yet make a definite Judgment whether the language meets the standards of actually inciting the riot. We have not seen or heard any testimony or evidence of the President’s frame of mine and intent – a factor that is essential in determining criminal activity. Matters of sedition and insurrection demand such proof. And yet, the House has brought this trial to the Senate without a scintilla of testimony or evidence upon which the senate requires to make a fair and objective judgment. Most of what the House Managers brought to the Senate is their opinion and a bunch of hearsay and constructed video that would not be allowed in a court-of-law. Certainly, in considering the conviction of a President of the United States, we should not descend to a lower standard. My vote against conviction is as much a refutation of the House sham impeachment process. To vote guilty would essentially endorse that shoddy impeachment by the House.”
To my thinking, that would be the kind of response from a savvy politician. So, why did the normally savvy McConnel put himself in such a rather untenable position – apparently pleasing neither side?
I can only speculate on two possible reasons.
The savvy McConnel has calculated that Trump will continue to head into controversial legal problems. And will become increasingly unlikely to maintain a position as a dominant force in the Republican Party. He believes that running successful Senate candidates in 2022 will be negatively affected by a big bad Trump.
McConnell may see the loss of the two Georgia Senate races as an indication that Trump could be toxic in the round of 2022 GOP primaries and general elections. McConnell may also see Trump operating in the wings will have a negative impact on contributions for 2022. Whether McConnell is right or wrong in such thinking, myopic attention to winning back the Senate is the goal of the savvy McConnell.
On the other hand, a bitterly angry McConnell has trumped the savvy McConnell.
Though McConnell has tried to work closely with Trump at times, it is no secret that the Senate Republican Leader cannot stand the guy. He seems to believe that Trump is a political albatross that has prevented the GOP from prevailing in 2018 and 2020. That he is uniquely responsible for the GOP’s loss of the House, the Senate and the presidency.
Unimaginable as it may seem, we are just months away from the beginning of the 2022 campaign season. Before the end of this year, candidates will be announcing their intentions, organizing campaigns, and the money solicitation will be in high gear.
The recruitment and support of Senate candidates will likely rest between Trump and McConnell. If they form an alliance, the GOP will have its best chance of re-taking the Senate. If the GOP sees numerous primaries in which Trump candidates are pitted against McConnell candidates, McConnell believes that his candidates must prevail if the GOP is to win control of the Senate.
The next year or so will prove just how savvy Mitch McConnell is.
So, there ‘tis.