There are some questions that have clear answers. Were it not for President Trump’s months of claims that the election would be and then was stolen, there would have been no mass of people who believed that he was being wrongfully deprived of a second term in office. Had he not persisted in making those claims or had he not actively encouraged his supporters to come to Washington on that day specifically because Congress was meeting, the streets around the Capitol and the White House wouldn’t have been crowded with furious Trump supporters. Had he not riled up the crowd that morning and encouraged them to head to the Capitol, it’s likely that far fewer would have. But all of those things happened, and there was a critical mass of fury that poured over the Capitol Police and into the building.
Once the mob had been cleared out, Congress continued the work it had begun that morning — counting the electoral votes cast in the 2020 presidential contest. A number of legislators who had only shortly beforehand escaped a potentially violent encounter with the mob sided with the mob’s desire to block the counting. That included at least a half-dozen Republican senators, all of whom had contributed to the sense that Trump had been wronged in the preceding days by announcing in advance their intent to oppose the final tally of votes.
Late on the night of Jan. 6, those Senate Republicans decided that, in essence, the violent mob had a point.
A week later, the House voted to impeach Trump for inciting the violence. Ten Republican members of the House joined a unanimous Democratic majority, a historic rebuke of a sitting president. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) quickly made clear that there would be no trial of Trump before he left office a week later, meaning that the impeachment would not result in an ouster of a sitting president wouldn’t come into effect. But there were other ramifications should Trump be convicted by the Senate on the article of impeachment passed by the House, one practical and one moral. From a practical standpoint, Trump would be unable to again hold public office, pouring cold water on his rumored plans for a 2024 comeback. Morally, Trump’s actions would have faced the most significant censure Congress can offer, a condemnation of his actions that would echo forever.
What he fomented was, in the words of the government itself, an insurrection. Some of those involved will probably face charges of sedition, an act of rebellion against the United States. And many were there, as they said themselves, because Trump had asked that they be.
All of this would suggest that the senators soon to be sitting in judgment of Trump’s actions would have a strong impetus to hold him accountable through the mechanism of impeachment. Yet, in a vote Tuesday, the overwhelming majority of the Republican caucus indicated the precise opposite, choosing to side with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in an effort to declare that the trial itself violated the Constitution and therefore should not take place. Legal experts disagree.
It’s possible that there are senators who think the trial is unconstitutional but who will also to vote to find Trump guilty. That’s exceedingly unlikely, given the incongruity required of voting to convict someone in a trial you’ve already said is invalid.
It’s also unlikely given the views of the Republican base. A poll conducted by Monmouth University and released Monday found that more than a third of Republicans saw nothing wrong in Trump’s actions before the attempted insurrection. Only 10 percent thought Trump deserved to be impeached. About the same percentage opposed finding Trump guilty in the trial.
What the vote Tuesday suggests is that there are only five Republicans who’ve consistently indicated their opposition, first, to Trump’s effort to undermine the results of the 2020 election and, second, to his behavior and rhetoric before the riot. Sens. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) all supported moving forward with the trial, having previously opposed the effort to block the counting of electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania and, more broadly, having rejected the efforts by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) to finagle a lawyerly way to bolster Trump’s effort to overturn the election.
Ten senators announced their intention to join Cruz’s effort to block the counting of electoral votes before Jan. 6. As mentioned above, seven senators eventually voted to oppose the acceptance of the votes in Arizona and/or Pennsylvania. And, on Tuesday, 45 senators voted to simply sidestep the trial resulting from Trump’s impeachment.
One can debate the utility of the impeachment trial. A conviction would certainly send a message, particularly given the number of senators who will probably offer a rebuke of the former president — far more than the one, Romney, who did so in Trump’s first impeachment trial one year ago. By suggesting that the trial shouldn’t be held, the vast majority of Republicans supported the idea that there should potentially be no assessment of accountability at all.
Put another way: Between the morning of Jan. 6 — shortly before the riot — and now, the number of Republicans sympathetic to Trump’s position has apparently increased nearly fourfold.
How Republican senators view Trump’s rhetoric and actions
We’ve broken down the views of the senators into four categories:
- Plan: Announced intention to object to the counting of electoral votes before the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.
- Ariz.: Opposed accepting Arizona’s officially submitted electoral votes after the Capitol was invaded Jan. 6.
- Pa.: Opposed accepting Pennsylvania’s submitted electoral votes that same evening.
- Trial: Supported an effort led by Paul to block the Trump impeachment trial.