Booting Trump from politics is the GOP’s easiest path to winning back Congress and the White House.
Permabanned President Donald J. Trump has just been impeached by the House of Representatives for the second time in as many years, making him the first and only President to be impeached twice, and likely the first President to face impeachment after leaving office. Trump’s second impeachment was the most bipartisan in American history, with the entire Democratic caucus and ten Republicans voting to oust the President.
Donald Trump’s fate will now be sent to the Senate, where a supermajority will be required to remove Trump from office. Trump’s first impeachment was largely symbolic; there was no chance that twenty Republican Senators would join the Democrats to remove Trump from office. Under Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP caucus has acted as a loyalist monolith for the President, overlooking or excusing his behavior in favor of party unity.
But impeachment is different this time around. In 2020, Donald Trump was far and away the most popular office holder in the GOP, up for reelection for continued control of the Executive Branch, and any GOP Senator up for reelection stood to face harsh backlash from their base (or Trump himself) should they vote to remove the President. The Trump brand was, and continues to be, the face of the Republican Party, and any act against Trump was sedition against the party.
Trump is still the most popular member of the Republican Party, to a degree that is worrying to many members of the GOP, but is a lame duck President with no medium through which he can easily reach his base. With the nearest election 21 months away, the GOP not only has less pressure from the President to stick by his side, but real electoral upsides to impeaching the President.
Soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, controversial as he is, is no fool. He is well aware that the Democrats’ legislative trifecta is incredibly fragile, and that the GOP could easily take back every branch of government in the next four years, including the Presidency. Winning back the House in 2022, and eventually the Senate, probably hinges on the electorate’s response to the first few years of the Biden presidency. But winning the White House in 2024, with the specter of Trump looming over the GOP, could be a huge thorn in the party’s side.
Since the Nov. 3rd election, Trump has openly floated the possibility of a 2024 run, oscillating from the promise to announce a 2024 bid as early as Biden’s inauguration, from retracting any imminent announcement because it would require him to disclose a number of financial statements that might further entangle him in potential legal troubles concerning his taxes. Whether or not Trump runs in 2024, knowing Trump, he will do his best to take up the spotlight, in a pseudo-campaign not unlike Sarah Palin’s 2012 bus tour, which ultimately culminated in her not running for President.
If Trump runs a wishy-washy exploration campaign throughout 2023 and 2024, any GOP attempt to unite behind a single candidate to unseat Democrats from the White House would be devastated. Trump loyalists, including important donors and GOP statesmen, would hold out money and support until Trump is officially in or out of the race, preventing any major Republican candidate from building a national campaign that could compete with what is likely to be a unified Democratic front. Given the large crowd of likely 2024 GOP candidates, many of whom are vocal Trump supporters themselves, having a non-candidate Trump outshine the entire field and clash with serious candidates would stymie the GOP’s 2024 campaign before it even begins.
Creating a national campaign requires the backing of a number of collaborating parties; donors, endorsers, party apparatus, and on the ground support are all necessary to get a fledgling campaign off the ground. The 2020 Democratic Primary was a perfect example of what happens when the networks of political power are forced to scatter or hold back their resources to presidential candidates.
With over two dozen candidates contending for the nomination, and no clear frontrunner emerging until Joe Biden bested Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday, the only campaigns that were viable through February of 2020 were the campaigns that already had significant political groundwork laid out for them through past campaigns: out of 29 candidates, the only two to amass a significant number of delegates were Joe Biden, the former Vice President, and Bernie Sanders, who had run for President four years prior. Even Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg, experienced and popular politicians on whom the political starlight had shone on brightly at some point during the primary, folded before mid-March.
Dozens of qualified candidates had to shutter their campaigns after only a few months because the political mechanisms that light fires beneath presidential campaigns held out on helping ostensibly White House-made candidates like Montana Governor Steve Bullock and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. There was what seemed to be an inevitable frontrunner, as well as an inevitable collapse, in the former Vice President, and so the Bullocks and Inslees of the world never got the full, or even partial, backing of the party. Biden never collapsed and won the Presidency- but imagine an embattled field of over 20 candidates that included former Vice President Joe Biden, all vying for the spotlight, all the while former President Barack Obama was floating a presidential campaign, berating Biden and Sanders as unfit for office. Would the eventual nominee have a chance at building the national campaign apparatus, or even the full party unity, necessary for a general election?
The 2024 Presidential Election should be a layup for the GOP. Barring some surprise, the Democratic nominee for President in 2024 will either be President Joe Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris. Joe Biden, who will be 82 at the end of his first term, already faced harsh scrutiny during the 2020 campaign regarding his capacity to assume the responsibilities of the presidency due at his age (78 years old on Inauguration Day). And Kamala Harris, should she run in Biden’s place, will likely lack support from working class whites and some Romney-Biden suburbanites that delivered Biden the presidency. However, running Mike Pence or Nikki Hayley against Joe Biden or Kamala Harris would be near impossible if half of the Republican base is still dedicated to a man who isn’t running.
The GOP base has already proved to the party that they’re willing to withhold their votes in important races if they feel that the party is not adequately pampering Trump. Republican turnout in the 2021 Georgia Senate Runoffs, upon which control of the Senate hinged, plunged enough in Trumpy districts to hand both seats, and therefore the Senate, to the Democrats. Republicans felt disenfranchised by what they perceived to be a stolen election, and felt that the Republican Party, including Georgia Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, had not done enough to stop the steal.
With Trump out of the White House and off the ballot, he is no longer an electoral asset to the GOP, but a huge liability. Ignoring the severity of the events of January 6th, Trump’s part in inciting the insurrection on January 6th, and the electorate’s growing desire to see him removed from office, the GOP have an electoral imperative to impeach Trump. If Trump were removed from office, or even retroactively impeached, he would lose the privileges of a former President: his security detail, his pension, and, importantly, the ability to run for public office again.
Many members of the Senate GOP are themselves 2024 hopefuls. They are likely not blind to the fact that a GOP primary with no threat of Donald Trump wading in and out of the contest would be a boon to their electoral chances. Certain 2024 prospects, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Missouri Senator/melted Ozymandias wax figurine Josh Hawley, have already hitched themselves to the “I fought for Trump” wagon, which may have lost steam following the insurrection on January 6th. However, other prominent GOP Senators like Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and South Carolina’s Tim Scott, who have toed the line between allegiance to the President and tepid criticism of Trump’s more outrageous actions, have more to gain from barring Trump from entering the 2024 race.
McConnell himself is likely aware of the electoral benefit of barring Trump from politics; he was reportedly “pleased” by the news of Trump’s imminent impeachment on January 13th, and, as of the writing of this article, is reportedly open to vote in favor of convicting the President after hearing further arguments. McConnell has largely broken from Trump since last November, refusing to vote to object to the certification of Arizona and Pennsylvania’s electoral votes and recognized Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 Presidential Election long before other major figures in the GOP. Following the events of January 6th, McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, resigned from her post in Trump’s cabinet as Secretary of Transportation.
No longer in control of the Senate, and the highest ranking GOP office holder in the federal government once Trump is out of office, McConnell will be singularly focused on the future of the Republican Party and winning back all three chambers from the Democrat’s narrow trifecta. While Trump remains more popular than him, anyone else in the Republican Party, and the party itself, he no longer has an outlet with which he can mobilize his core base of supporters or berate disloyal Republicans.
Trump is effectively banned from the internet, and will leave office with the lowest approval rating of any President in modern history besides W. Bush, Carter or Nixon. But he still has a fierce, loyal base of supporters who are more obedient to him than the actual GOP, a dilemma that McConnell must fix if the Republican party has any hope of winning back any chamber in the next four years. By barring him from seeking political office, the GOP can begin the process of officially moving on from Trump, whose grip on the Republican Party would be significantly lessened.
Should the Senate vote on the impeachment of Donald Trump after he has left office, and it looks like they will, McConnell will only need to whip 16 votes (if he himself votes to remove Trump) to turn Trump from a lingering threat to the party into a political pariah. If the Republican Party wants a fighting chance at moving on from Trump any time in the near future, which they will need to in order to survive, they should move to impeach their former leader- and build a GOP brand that is viable beyond the presence of a singular figure.
…Yet, what if Trump isn’t removed from office, runs in 2024, wins the nomination, and wins back the Presidency? In that case, ignore this article and may God help us all.