Senate Vote on Trump’s Conviction Won’t Predict Future Voter Behavior

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Photo Source: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber after the Senate voted not guilty in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

If Nostradamus were alive today, Republicans would be lining up to ask him how their votes on former President Trump’s conviction in the Senate impeachment trial would affect voters. And the expert pundits would likely be right behind them.

Every newspaper, magazine and political talk show commentator has opinions, a few of them based on recent polling. Every elected official has them too, and depending on political ambitions, loyalties and possibly threats of consequences, decisions are made. But the Senate’s vote on February 12 vote was the most bipartisan impeachment vote in history. Bipartisan, but not bipartisan enough for a conviction. And the next round of Congressional elections is 20 long months away. As history has taught us, things can change in a flash.

The Sunday morning talk shows did little to shed light on what is likely to happen. Among the predominant questions:

First: How much influence will the former President have in the future? Who knows? He could be incarcerated or so tied up in litigation that he bids politics farewell. He could be spending all his time campaigning for Ivanka’s Florida Senate seat or that of his daughter-in-law Lara, Eric’s wife. She already has her sights on filling the vacancy created by outgoing Senator Richard Burr in North Carolina.

Then there is the question of how loyal the base will be. Will they hang on despite strong criticism from Senator Mitch McConnell, who added a postscript to the trial with the words, “This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our intuitions on the way out.”

Will Trump’s acquittal be persuasive? Or did enough people get outraged by the chilling videos, along with his Tweets and rally statements, to outweigh their fealty?

One thing is certain, however: none of these political aspirations will be hampered by a lack of money. Forbes says Trump has garnered over $250 million since the election that he claims will be used to fund challenges to President Biden’s win. But the “fine print at the bottom of some (fundraising) emails disclosed that large portions of the donations would go to Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America.” These funds can be used “to fund basically anything,” according to Philip Bump in The Washington Post.

The second question is: How will President Biden’s first 24 months affect things? If the pandemic is over or nearly defeated and the economy bounces back, will people reward him for making good on his campaign promised to defeat COVID-19 and return business, school, sports and life in general back to normal?

The current state of affairs might be critically important in the suburbs, where Republican “defection” might have been the key to tipping the election scales to Biden.

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) was quoted in the New York Times saying, “Trump-plus is the way back in 2022”, while Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who was just reelected, called the ex-President a “waning force, noting on ABC’s This Week, “The Republican Party is more than just one person…The Republican Party is about ideas.”

The New York Times reports that one of these ideas has already come from the executive committee of the Louisiana Republican Party that voted to censure their senator after he cast his vote to convict. The State’s Attorney General Jeff Landry said Cassidy “fallen into the trap laid by Democrats to have Republicans attack Republicans”

Other than Louisiana’s Cassidy, the other six Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump have little to worry about in 2022. Two, Burr and Toomey (R-PA), are retiring, and Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Cassidy were just reelected. Former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-UT) probably has his own base, and only Lisa Murkowski faces reelection. She was reelected in 2018 by a write-in vote after losing her primary.

And the third key question must ask what will happen if Trump announces for President again and begins his campaign to take advantage of the 2022 midterms.

If he does announce, how will his re-election intentions stymie the coronation efforts of those who sought to pick up the mantle, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Nikki Haley, the former Senator and United Nations ambassador? Both Cruz and Hawley were often shown rallying the crowd during the January 6 insurrection, Hawley raising his fists in the air and Cruz using a bullhorn to shout his support.

Haley already told Politico she was “disgusted” by Trump’s conduct on that infamous day, and said she did not believe he would remain a “dominant force” in the Republican party because he “had lost any sort of political viability.”

“I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture,” Haley said. I don’t think he can. He’s fallen so far.”

Many questions may be answered when voters decide who they want to lead the party and who might help Republicans gain control of at least one chamber in 2022. McConnell confessed, “Senate candidates in 2022 may have Mr. Trump’s backing or not, but “the only thing I care about is electability.”

Will Trump’s cult of personality prevail or will donors, Trump’s loyal base, state party leaders, the former President’s preference for golf and retirement, and possibly activists such as QAnon play key roles in the future? Nostradamus, like the Magic 8 ball that was popular in decades past, might say, “ask again later.”

Maureen Rubin
Maureen Rubin
Maureen is a graduate of Catholic University Law School and holds a Master's degree from USC. She is a licensed attorney in California and was an Emeritus Professor of Journalism at California State University, Northridge specializing in media law and writing. With a background in both the Carter White House and the U.S. Congress, Maureen enriches her scholarly work with an extensive foundation of real-world knowledge.
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