Without a doubt, on the merits Donald Trump deserves to be convicted by the Senate and barred from ever again holding national office.
He incited an insurrectionist invasion of the U.S. Capitol that killed five people and aimed to kill even more. Before that, he tried to overturn the results of a free and fair national election. He’s a continuing menace to American democracy. On top of that, for several months he abandoned his chief governmental duty—combating the pandemic that has killed 400,000 of the citizens he’s sworn to protect.
ON THE OTHER HAND, a good case can be made that Senate Democrats would only help him by trying to convict him now—and failing again, which they’re most likely to do. If more than 17 Senate Republicans stick with Trump, as seems likely, he will claim exoneration and feel encouraged to continue dominating the GOP and run again in 2024.
So, the best course may be to follow Rep. James Clyburn’s advice to Speaker Nancy Pelosi: hold off sending the House’s Article of Impeachment to the Senate at least until President Joe Biden has completed his first 100 Days.
Not only would that allow the Senate to confirm Biden’s Cabinet without distraction and pass parts of his ambitious domestic agenda, especially doing all that’s necessary to combat the pandemic. It would provide time for the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion to be thoroughly investigated, possibly turning up new evidence of Trump’s involvement and making it harder for Republicans to resist conviction if Democrats decided to pursue it.
The best case I’ve seen for not moving hastily to convict Trump was laid out in a Washington Post column this week by David Von Drehle, which is worth quoting at some length:
“Trump’s presidency is over, His so-called movement is in tatters… Ruin awaits him. The king of social media has been de-platformed, and the once-gilded Trump brand stands for shattered glass, battered police officers—one fatally—and human feces tracked across marble floors.
“The Trump flag flies over phalanxes in body armor, spouting nonsense and threats, while brandishing rifles, handguns, and bear-repellent spray in gatherings across the country.
“Banks have closed their windows to him, as massive debts loom near, A grand jury in New York has begun gathering evidence for a potential felony prosecution. And his dearest post-presidential ambition—to have the major championships of golf played at courses bearing his name—is dead…
“No doubt, Trump thinks this is just another twist in the self-orchestrated melodrama of his life, and a particular twist at that… The only path back that his imagination can perceive is through conflict: Trump the victim. Trump against his enemies. Trump triumphant…
“Given the spectacle of his self-immolation, no ordinary foil will do. Trump needs his co-stars from past epic battles—the same Democrats he fought through an election, an impeachment, and another election, the one he couldn’t bear to end.
“To borrow a phrase, Democrats should stand back and stand by; but alas, the idea of a sequel is making the rounds in Washington. In their righteous and proper anger over the Trump Riot and all that led up to it, many Democrats are talking themselves into one more go-round…
“Democrats alone—and no one else—can keep Trump front and center past Jan. 20. Those who are programming Impeachment II assert that another operatic clash is necessary to ensure that Trump won’t return in 2024.
“But there’s a better way to achieve the same purpose. Americans voted in record numbers for something other than Trump, and since the election his approval rating has dropped further, into the low 30s… The public voted for an end to the Trump show. Give them what they want.”
It’s not necessary for Democrats to abandon a Senate trial completely and forever. Evidence may emerge that he was fully aware of what would happen when he sent his mobs to Capitol Hill, that the Pentagon slow-walked providing a rescue force at his instruction, that he’s knowingly involved in what mayhem may transpire this weekend and Jan. 20.
If so, 17 Republican votes might materialize. If not, he still stands defeated for re-election, guilty of an attempted coup and the first president ever to be impeached twice–a failed president who is headed for jail, his political career ended by a felony conviction.
And Joe Biden, if he manages the COVID-war endgame successfully, may win bigger margins in the 2022 elections, enabling him to carry out his plans for building America back better.