I can dream, can't I?
I wouldn't take too much notice of what follows if I were you: it's the purest speculation. But, as the headline says, I can dream, can't I?
I've been staying up late watching the live coverage of Donald Trump's impeachment. It's some of the best drama I've ever seen, on TV or anywhere else. But, despite a brilliantly illustrated and argued prosecution, everyone seems to think Trump will get away with his part in triggering the Capitol riot, a high crime and misdemeanour if ever there was one. The conventional wisdom espoused by everybody from The New York Times to Fox News is that a two-thirds majority of the 100 US senators - the margin needed for a conviction - is out of reach of the impeachers. It would need 67 senators to vote to convict Trump, but there are only 50 Democrats in the senate. So it would take 17 Republicans to join them and find the former President guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours. This would assure Trump's place in the history books as the worst US president of all time, the first to be successfully impeached, and the first to be impeached twice.
That all makes perfect sense, but it is in fact wrong. Article 1, section 2, clause 5 of the US constitution states, and I quote: "No person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the (Senate) members PRESENT (my emphasis)." So if a mere 25 Republicans should suddenly find compelling reasons to not turn up on the fateful day, the 50 Democrats would have the numbers needed for a conviction. Donald Trump's fate thus rests in the hands, not just of 17 switching Republican senators, but in the hands of all 50 Republican senators, who will have to turn up and vote in sufficient numbers to acquit if Trump is to get away with it. Will they? That's the burning question.
Here's why, like Martin Luther King Jr, I have a dream. It's said that loyalty to Trump on the Republican side springs from the need to keep hold of Trump's base in any future election. (My first thought, after seeing Trump's base in action on 6 January, is that they're welcome to every single one of them.) But the lurking assumption is that Trump has an uncanny ability to drum up voters. Not so, in my view.
Look at what happened in the real world of the 2020 election. The Republican Party actually gained seats in the House of Representatives, whittling down Nancy Pelosi's majority from a comfortable 36 to a dangerous nine. Republicans lost control of the Senate after losing three seats, giving the Democrats 48 seats to the Republican's 50, with two Georgia seats undecided. The Democrats then won the two Georgia seats against two Republicans who campaigned on backing Trump. This gave the Democrats the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris has a tie-breaker vote, which gives Democrats a narrow majority of 51 to 50. So Donald Trump, who started his spell in the White House with the presidency plus a Republican Senate and House, finished ignominiously by losing all three: the presidency, the Senate in 2020, and the House in 2018. So much for Trump magic working with voters.
If only they could see it, the Republicans did not too badly in the 2020 elections, overwhelmingly without or in spite of Donald Trump. They gained hugely in the House, and narrowly lost the Senate. Meanwhile Trump lost to Joe Biden by a thumping seven million votes. Not much evidence of Trump election magic at work there.
So what will happen when the Senate comes to vote on Trump's impeachment? Cynically, the Republicans have a simple calculation. Trump's guilt has been well established by Jamie Raskin and his 'managers'. The Republicans could simply vote to impeach, which we are led to believe they won't do. And why not? Because if they do vote against Trump, then their votes will be public knowledge and Trump's base will desert them when it comes to the next round of elections. That's 30% of their sure-fire vote out the window. Without that 'base' they can't win in a narrow race.
What about in a non-narrow race? The same rules apply. In a so-called 'safe' seat all that matters is securing the candidacy. This you do in a so-called 'primary', where party supporters can vote for their chosen candidate. In a safe Democrat seat, if you become the candidate by winning the primary, you win the election. Ditto for Republicans. So the primary vote is the one that counts. And who votes? 'Registered' voters in most states, and that means the 'base'. So if you are a Republican candidate, your fate is likely to be in the hands of people like the howling nut-cases who attacked the Capitol, and you'd better be on record as supporting Trump, or else.
But, but, but ...
This is all predicated on the individual Senate Republicans making a public declaration one way or another. What if significant numbers of them decided - see above - that Trump is electoral poison, but that you can't be seen to cross him and thereby offend his 'base'? Might you have sudden, urgent, personal reasons, or business reasons, or health reasons, or family reasons, for not turning up to vote on decision day? And if that meant Trump was impeached on party lines entirely by Democrats, and subsequently barred from Federal public office for the rest of his life by those same wicked Dems, might that not be the best possible outcome for you and all your Republican colleagues? I'm just asking, that's all.