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Commentary: Ineffective impeachment allows Trump to elude accountability

Commentary: Ineffective impeachment allows Trump to elude accountability

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has spent four years defending the actions Donald Trump.

Now, after the former president’s second impeachment, the powerful Republican conceded that the former president is “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

“No question about it,” McConnell said Saturday. “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president, and having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet earth.”

Still, McConnell and 42 other Republicans voted against convicting Trump of inciting the marauders that stormed the Capitol. The acquittal means Trump is free to run for president in 2024.

Gromer Jeffers

McConnell said that Trump’s actions — as deplorable as they appear — are irrelevant because the Senate didn’t have standing to rule on the case. McConnell’s position is rejected by many legal scholars, and the Senate, including some Republicans, who voted that it was constitutional for senators to consider convicting Trump and disqualifying him from holding public office again.

Trump’s acquittal exposes that the process of impeaching a president is a feckless endeavor that puts partisan politics ahead of holding officials accountable for their actions.

The framers of the Constitution wanted impeaching and removing a president from office to be difficult, rare and immune to political vendettas. But leaving the Senate to try a president on impeachment charges means the outcome of the process will hinge on the political dynamic at play, not the evidence presented at the trial.

There are 48 Democrats, two independents and 50 Republicans in the Senate. Since the independents caucus with the Democrats, Democrats control the chamber. But House managers failed to get two-thirds of the Senate to vote to convict Trump. Only seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to hold Trump accountable for the Jan. 6 riot. Notably, that’s more bipartisanship than is typically seen in impeachment trials.

Even though members of his own party believed Trump helped cause and fuel the insurrection at the Capitol, the House members and senators are powerless to hold him accountable because politics trump facts.

McConnell pointed out that if Trump pays a legal price for his actions, it will be through the nation’s criminal justice system. That’s unlikely because “incitement” as a legal definition could be much harder to prove in a court of law than in an impeachment trial.

Trump’s true trial will be conducted by the American people, and in that respect this week’s impeachment proceedings are useful. If the people believe Trump must pay a price for the events of Jan. 6, he’ll never again be a serious contender for president. His status as leader of the Republican Party will fade.

Politicians are driven by public opinion. Most Republicans believe that bucking the president will result in them having a political price to pay. That’s not exactly a testament in political courage, but it’s a political reality.

But another reckoning with Trump is on the horizon. The former president is signaling that’s he’s not leaving the political scene.

“We have so much work ahead of us,” Trump said in a statement after his acquittal.

It’s up to Americans to decide Trump’s future standing and his place in history. And Republican voters will determine whether to stick with Trump, or transition to other leaders.

Trump once said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and not lose his supporters.

That view again will be put to the test.

Gromer Jeffers Jr. is a political writer for The Dallas Morning News. 

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