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US Senate to Trump: Yes, we can impeach you, even though you’re gone.

The result of last night’s vote was 56 to 44. That wasn’t on the main question, about whether former President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against his own country’s Government. That vote will come later.

Last night’s vote, actually, was about whether the US Senate has the authority to put Trump on trial at all. He’s a former President now, remember. The usual penalty, if you are impeached and convicted, is that you lose your job and are removed from office. Trump doesn’t have a job, and he was removed from office by the US electoral college on January 6th – the very day of the riot that is at the core of these proceedings.

So the argument from Republicans, interestingly enough, hasn’t been that Trump is innocent of the charges brought against him. The argument has been that there is no mechanism to prosecute his alleged crimes. And on that vote, last night, the Republicans, and Trump, lost. 56-44, with six Republican Senators voting with the Democrats to say “yes, actually, we can impeach you”.

That’s the bad news, as such, for Trump. But there are two other points to consider, one good for Trump, and one bad for him.

The good point, as far as Trump is concerned, is that 44 Republican Senators believing the whole thing to be unconstitutional means that the chances of him actually being convicted by the Senate are basically zero. To convict someone in an impeachment trial, 67 Senators would have to vote for conviction. That means that 11 Republicans would have to go on the record as voting to convict him in a trial that they themselves have voted to be unconstitutional. That would be an absurd position, so we’re pretty much guaranteed that the 67 votes to convict him are not there. Trump will be the first President to be impeached twice – but he’ll also be acquitted, twice.

There’s bad news for Trump too, though, and it’s this:

The argument to acquit him, you’ll notice, is not that he’s innocent. Barely anybody in his own political party is willing to stand up and say “no, President Trump did not incite the mob that attacked Congress during the January 6th riots”. The very best he’ll get – and only grudgingly, at that – is for someone to say that his words didn’t rise to the level of incitement, or that incitement itself is not a crime. Most of them won’t even go that far, and stick to the old technical “it’s not constitutional to try him” argument.

For the most part, it’s sheer cowardice on behalf of Republicans. On the one hand, they know that if they vote to convict Trump, they’re likely to lose the support of Republican voters the next time they’re up for re-election.

On the other hand, they know that if they come right out and say that Trump is innocent, they risk alienating middle ground voters who think – according to the polls – that Trump deserves to be impeached.

So the strategy is to take no position on guilt or innocence, and say things like this, from Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

And what of Trump’s defence? Well, it got off to a bad start yesterday, when his lawyers appeared to ramble about ancient Greece and ancient Rome, rather than putting up a defence. In fact, his lawyers appeared so weak that they appear to have cost him one Republican vote:

And here’s a clip from Trump superfan network, Newsmax, with a senior lawyer absolutely tearing into Trump’s defence team:


And reportedly, even one television viewer down in Florida was astonished at how bad the defence lawyers were:

Trump’s been bedeviled by poor lawyering, really, since he lost the election in November. His lawyers, you’ll recall, managed to see almost every one of sixty cases thrown out of courts – many of them by Judges Trump himself appointed. At points, he was represented by cartoon characters like Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. These new lawyers seem professional enough – but either they had an off-day yesterday, or they’re not working with good arguments to begin with.

Little surprise, then, that Trump is planning to make, apparently, a “you did it too” argument, by introducing lots and lots of videos to evidence, featuring Democratic politicians saying inflammatory and stupid things. Those videos exist, and they will be highly effective, of course, at shoring up support for him amongst his base of supporters.

But then again, he’s always had his base of supporters. They didn’t cost him the election – middle of the road voters did. And “you did it too” is, in the first instance, a poor argument. And in the second instance, it’s not really true, either: Trump stands accused of inciting violence against the Democratic process itself, and trying to overturn the results of an election. Lots of Democrats have said lots of dumb things over the years, but it’s hard to find something on that level.

He’ll win acquittal in this trial. But like it or lump it, he’s a busted flush, politically.

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