Trump was acquitted of the impeachment charges by the US senate because despite the fact that a sizable bipartisan majority of 57-43 found him guilty, the rules require a super majority of at least 67-33 to convict. I am willing to speculate that almost all of them believed him to be guilty of the charge but were scared to convict him for fear of angering Trump and repercussions from his cult followers. So they seized upon the fig leaf that is is unconstitutional to convict someone who is no longer in office, an argument that not only is absurd on its face but was roundly rejected by a large number of legal scholars and was even rejected by a majority senate vote of 56-44 before the trial started.
But of all the Republican weasels, the most weaselly is senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. After voting to acquit on these spurious grounds of unconstitutionality because of a situation that he himself brought about by delaying the trial until after Trump left office, he then makes a blistering statement on the senate floor against Trump.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said on Saturday that Donald Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January – minutes after voting to acquit the former president in his impeachment trial for that very same act.
McConnell, like the Senators who voted in favor of impeachment, was deeply critical of Trump’s conduct leading up to the attack. “They [the mob] did this because they’d been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he lost an election,” McConnell said.
But McConnell argued the Senate could not convict Trump because he had left office before the Senate trial began – a timeline McConnell orchestrated as Senate majority leader after refusing Democrats’ requests to call the Senate into an emergency session in January.
The House impeached Trump for a second time in his final days in office, but McConnell delayed starting the Senate trial until after Joe Biden was sworn in.
Notice that he did not castigate his Republican colleagues who amplified Trump’s ‘wild falsehoods’.
So what is his game? We know that he has no principles, only a lust for power. My own feeling is that he has concluded that Trump is an albatross for the party, that his continued presence will result in Republicans being unable to regain control of the senate in 2022 and make him majority leader again, which is what he wants most dearly. The loss of the two Georgia senate seats was a bellwether. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker has more. (This was written before the impeachment trial.)
“I think McConnell is trying to have it both ways,” Stevens told me. “He absolutely doesn’t want to impeach and convict Trump. It would split his base and cause members of his caucus to face primary challengers.” Stevens contended that McConnell, by signalling his openness to impeachment without committing to convicting Trump, was trying to avoid a meltdown of the Republican Party.
At first, political observers from both parties considered it possible that McConnell was merely using the threat of an impeachment trial as a brushback—a way to hold Trump in line as he left office. Then McConnell directly accused Trump of having “provoked” the mob. Jim Manley, who served as the senior communications adviser to Harry Reid, the former Democratic Majority Leader, told me, “There is no going back now. He has decided to cut his losses, and do what he can to make sure Trump is no longer a threat to the Republican Party.” McConnell and other Republican leaders, Manley suggested, “have gotten as much out of Trump as they can, and it’s now time to make sure Trump is damaged goods.”
So his is a balancing act. He votes to acquit in order to avoid angering too much the Trump cult but his speech is a warning to Trump to not run again and a hint for him to leave the scene. He is gambling that the Trump cult may forget his speech but would never forgive him if he actually voted to convict.
The problem with this strategy is that Trump is driven purely by ego and does not pay any heed to signals that he does not like. Whatever McConnell says will not influence Trump’s decisions. McConnell and other Republicans have fed and nurtured a deranged tiger in order to attack their opponents but that tiger is now biting the hands that fed it.