The political ground has shifted under President TrumpDonald TrumpCotton: Senate lacks authority to hold impeachment trial once Trump leaves office Marjorie Taylor Greene says she will introduce impeachment articles against Biden ICE acting director resigns weeks after assuming post MORE with startling speed.
He kept his own party in line for two months after his election loss, even as he pumped out ever more conspiratorial theories to claim a non-existent victory.
The insurrectionary violence that hit the Capitol on Jan. 6, inflicted by a mob that had been riled up by Trump, changed all that. Shock has deepened among lawmakers and the general public in the days afterward, as new video footage and eyewitness testimony have underlined how close the nation came to an even greater catastrophe.
On Wednesday afternoon, Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. The House voted 232-197 to sustain the single charge facing Trump: incitement of insurrection.
Ten Republicans voted against Trump. During his first impeachment, in December 2019, not a single Republican broke party lines.
Evidence has mounted this week that senior Republicans have — finally — reached a breaking point with Trump.
Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyPelosi signs article of impeachment charging Trump with incitement Kinzinger says he is ‘in total peace’ after impeachment vote Crenshaw defends Cheney against calls to resign: ‘We can disagree without tearing each other apart’ MORE (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking Republican in the House, announced her decision to vote for impeachment in a scathing statement released on Tuesday evening.
Cheney accused Trump of having “lit the flame of this attack.” His failure to quell the assault once it had begun, she added, was a “betrayal…of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCotton: Senate lacks authority to hold impeachment trial once Trump leaves office GOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Graham urging Biden to get Pelosi to ‘call off’ impeachment proceedings MORE (R-Ky.) appears to have run out of patience with Trump, too. A New York Times report on Tuesday, which has not been contradicted by McConnell or his aides, said he welcomed the impeachment process as an opportunity for the GOP to purge itself of Trump.
“Leader McConnell is thinking way into the future and he understands that there is no future for the Republican Party with Donald Trump,” said former Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Memo: GOP and nation grapple with what comes next House Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members House adjusts format for dinner with new members after criticism MORE, a Trump critic within the GOP who represented a South Florida district from 2015 to 2019. “He is not wasting any time in doing what needs to be done.”
Even some Republicans who have previously been aligned with Trump share the anger that many critics feel about the attack last week.
“The president just let it unfold and sat there like a spectator, taking some kind of pleasure in the fact that the vote [to certify President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenCotton: Senate lacks authority to hold impeachment trial once Trump leaves office Marjorie Taylor Greene says she will introduce impeachment articles against Biden ICE acting director resigns weeks after assuming post MORE’s victory] was stalled,” said one GOP strategist with ties to the White House.
Asked about McConnell’s break with Trump, the strategist said: “Trump unleashed violent protests that almost overran the Senate and put McConnell and his colleagues at risk. What kind of reaction would anyone have?”
Trump tried to row back his position on Wednesday. In a video released late that afternoon, he said he “unequivocally” condemned what had happened at the Capitol. “Mob violence goes against everything I believe in,” he added.
The video message made no mention of the impeachment vote.
Earlier in the day, Trump had released a brief statement with a similar, conciliatory message. The statement was read on the House floor by Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHouse impeaches Trump for second time — with some GOP support House conservatives plot to oust Liz Cheney Cheney on calls for her to resign from GOP leadership: ‘I’m not going anywhere’ MORE (R-Ohio), one of Trump’s most fervent congressional supporters.
The 10 Republicans who broke with Trump on the big vote made it the most bipartisan impeachment in American history. The only two other presidents to be impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonGeraldo Rivera says Trump should be impeached: ‘His actions were inexcusable’ Davis: Impeaching Trump: Four reasons not to do so, and one reason why we must Biden inauguration theme will be ‘America United’ MORE, suffered zero and five defections from their own party, respectively.
“The fact that 10 House members voted against him does not bode well for Trump’s prospects in the Senate,” said GOP strategist Alex Conant, referring to the trial of Trump that is likely to begin about a week from now in the upper chamber.
Still, despite the undoubted anger at Trump from some in the GOP, the extent of his party’s break with him should not be overstated.
The GOP members who voted to impeach him were outnumbered almost 20-to-1 by colleagues who backed him. McConnell has said he will not reconvene the Senate early, which ensures that Trump cannot be removed from office before his term is up on Jan. 20.
And there were, as usual, plenty of vigorous defenders of Trump within the GOP ranks on Wednesday.
Jordan contended that the impeachment process has “always been about getting the president, no matter what.” Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzTop Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win House GOP leader tells members to quit spreading lies on riot, antifa Bottom line MORE (R-Fla.) argued that “the left in America has incited far more political violence than the right.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this week found that 73 percent of Republican voters believe Trump has been “protecting” democracy rather than “undermining” it.
The president will always have his diehards.
But the fact remains that he is ending his time in the White House as a more isolated figure than he has ever been before.
The impeachment vote places one more indelible mark against him.
“This is what Donald Trump will be remembered for,” said Conant. “Whatever else he may have done over the last four years, he leaves office as the first president to be impeached twice.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.