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GOP’s Path to Plausible Deniability

February 6th, 2021 by dk

Situational analysis: Republicans want to put Trump in the political rear-view mirror. They especially don’t want him planning or promising to run for president again in 2024. But Trump has boxed them in by whispering (not very softly) that he could just start his own Patriot Party if he feels like Republicans treat him badly.

How can Senate Republicans sideline Trump without provoking his vengeance? They don’t dare vote to convict him in the upcoming impeachment trial. Unfortunately, his conviction offers the surest path to accomplishing their ultimate goal.

A conviction requires a supermajority of two-thirds of the Senators present, but a subsequent vote to bar Trump from holding public office again requires only a simple majority. There is a way to thread this needle for Republicans, but they will need a bit of cooperation from the Democratic leadership. Democrats should be willing to help.

Republicans have mostly settled on a process argument against voting to convict the now-former president. Almost all Republican Senators voted in favor of Sen. Rand Paul’s motion to dismiss the impeachment as moot. The U.S. Senate cannot remove from office a president who has already been removed, so why hold a trial at all?

The process question that Paul brought to the fore has some internal logic to it. Republicans need only add what their campaign and communication machinery does best. Senators can preen with outrage and righteous indignation, forging for themselves the cowards’ path to conviction.

Twenty or more from the Republican caucus need only do what Republicans seem to do best, which  is nothing at all. They can speed the impeachment conviction by refusing to show up for the vote, claiming that the trial itself is unconstitutional.

This will give them what every politician seeks — plausible deniability. They can tell their constituents how they “would have” voted at the conclusion of the trial, if only their love of our country’s founding document hadn’t required them to stay home that day.

If the conviction vote proceeds without them, that lowers the number of conviction votes necessary to reach the necessary threshold of two-thirds of Senators present. Not incidentally, the cowards’ absence will also lower their risk of a retaliatory primary challenge. Democrats and a few token Republicans can convict the former president.

Remember, though, this. Impeachment and conviction won’t sideline Trump. He could still run again. No (supposed) billionaire has ever parlayed victimhood like Trump, so he could launch his 2024 campaign as a near-martyr. The rallies script themselves.

After a conviction, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would control whether and when a banishment vote is taken. Getting Trump out of the way matters more to Republicans than to Democrats, so what legislative concessions can Schumer extract in return for a vote to ban Trump from ever holding public office again?

It’s become increasingly rare for Republicans to care more about a floor vote than Democrats in the Senate. Schumer should seize a rare opportunity to exchange legislative favors. What will vulnerable Republicans trade for Trump’s exile and their own plausible deniability?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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