The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Senate Republicans take note: The public is moving in favor of conviction

The article of impeachment against now-former president Donald Trump is prepared for signature at the Capitol on Jan. 13. (Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
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The public understands the stakes in the impeachment trial. As ABC News reported, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds that “56% of Americans say [former president Donald] Trump should be convicted and barred from holding office again, and 43% say he should not be.” That is a substantial shift from January, when an ABC News/Washington Post poll found “47% of Americans said the Senate should vote to remove Trump from office and 49% said he should not be removed.”

Interestingly, the later poll shows increasing support among Republicans for conviction. ABC News reports: “In the January 2020 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 9% of Republicans said the Senate should vote to remove Trump from office. In this new poll, 15% of Republicans say they support the Senate convicting and barring Trump from office.”

Gallup also tracks a shift in public opinion. In the first half of January, support for convicting Trump stood at 46 percent, with 51 percent opposed. In a poll conducted between Jan. 21 and Feb. 2, 52 percent approved, 45 percent did not.

We can only speculate as to why the public has shifted. At a basic level, Americans have had time to digest the images of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. They have learned more details, heard from those victimized and seen the response of Republicans. Moreover, the question is not whether Trump should be removed from office, an action that the election and inauguration of President Biden resolved. Now, the question is more limited: Should Trump be allowed to run for office again?

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Ironically, with the passage of time, the country is becoming less content with “just moving on.” Moreover, the increase in favor of conviction might suggest that at least some Republicans, having watched the last month of the former president’s antics as well as the fights over Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), might understand that the party can only move on after Trump is removed from the political scene. So long as the former president hangs around like a dark cloud, inducing Republicans to swear allegiance and promulgate his lies, the harder it will be for the party to appeal to mainstream Americans.

Republicans, with the exception of a few senators, are still functioning as though they were in 2020. They are whining about unfair media coverage and “censorship” by social media (which has every right to control who accesses their platforms), fighting among themselves as to the consequences of voting to convict, and seeking retribution (from state parties) against insufficiently Trumpy Republicans.

Under normal circumstances, with a defeated incumbent president, it is difficult for a party to change. The Post’s Pippa Norris observes, “Normally, any party must be shocked by successive landslide electoral defeats to oust the old regime. Party renewal grows from subsequent electoral gains, gradually bringing moderate new blood into the party.” Thanks to the defections of a handful of sane Republicans, what remains is even more whacky and anti-democratic (small d) members. Throw in the potential for Trump to remain the party’s nominee, and the chance of any introspection becomes nil.

The good news for Republicans and for the country is that a few Republican senators, such as the 10 who went to the White House to negotiate a rescue plan with Biden, plus the four who are retiring — Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) — show some recognition that the party has to get back to the substance of policy. If they want to help the party move into 2021 (not to mention, toward any future the party might have), the first step would be severing its relationship with the former president, correctly identified by Cheney as being responsible for the greatest “betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Early on Jan. 6, The Post's Kate Woodsome saw signs of violence hours before thousands of President Trump's loyalists besieged the Capitol. (Video: Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post, Photo: John Minchillo/AP/The Washington Post)

Read more:

The Post’s View: The Senate must convict Donald Trump

Colbert I. King: The only question facing senators in Trump’s impeachment trial

Greg Sargent: Democrats risk committing a serious blunder at Trump’s impeachment trial

Jennifer Rubin: Four guidelines for the House impeachment managers

George T. Conway III: Trump’s new reality: Ex-president, private citizen and, perhaps, criminal defendant