The decision should have been easy: Do you want to stick by an overwhelmingly unpopular former president who potentially has both civil and criminal liabilities, or do you want a fresh start for a party in need of new ideas? Republicans, remarkably, chose the former.

Quinnipiac’s most recent poll highlights the Republicans’ dilemma. By a 75 percent to 21 percent margin, Republicans “would like to see [former president Donald Trump] play a prominent role in the Republican Party.” However, overall, “Americans say 60-34 percent that they do not want Trump to play a prominent role in the Republican Party.” Even worse: “A majority of Americans, 55-43 percent, say Trump should not be allowed to hold elected office in the future. Republicans say 87-11 percent that Trump should be allowed to hold elected office in the future.”

Further, a majority of Americans (54 percent) think Trump was responsible for the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. An even higher percentage (55 percent) think the assault would not have happened without him. An astounding 68 percent think the former commander in chief did not do enough to stop the siege.

Republicans are bound to a figure who is toxic and utterly unacceptable to a significant majority of the country. Republicans in 2022 will be tied to him or will rush to embrace him, rendering candidates repugnant outside of deep-red areas. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) might like to distance himself from the disgraced former president, but after saving Trump from conviction, it will be difficult to disentangle the party from the man who instigated a violent coup, no matter what McConnell said on the Senate floor after voting to acquit him.

The groups that ran from the GOP in 2020 — women, young people, non-Whites and the college educated — are the same voters who are most adamant about getting Trump out of public life. Only 26 percent of women, 37 percent of young voters, 18 percent of college-educated Whites and 28 percent of non-Whites want him to be a major figure in the GOP.

The party’s leader is a red flag for these groups, which will be incentivized in 2022 to defeat his enablers. All those Republican House swing districts who ran to embrace the insurrectionist in chief will face the wrath of anti-Trump voters without him on the top of the ticket to drive turnout. Democrats chasing Senate seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and even Ohio will ask a simple question: Do you want someone who supported the instigator of a deadly insurrection, or someone who thought that such conduct should be punished?

Beyond that, the White House and congressional Democrats have an easy argument to make whenever Republicans holler about bipartisanship or “extreme” nominees: Republicans have no moral authority when it comes to extremism, nor is there any evidence that they put the country’s interests above their own. The people who could not manage to convict someone as obviously guilty (according to McConnell) as the former president live in a make-believe world in which they are at war with reality.

Acquittal was a stunningly self-destructive move for a party that cannot now move beyond a villainous figure. Republicans might want to root for investigations into the former president, since they obviously lack the nerve to get him out of their party on their own.

Early on Jan. 6, The Post's Kate Woodsome saw signs of violence hours before thousands of former president Donald Trump loyalists besieged the Capitol. (Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

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