Tom assesses each GOP Senator’s likelihood to support a Trump conviction in the impeachment trial.
With all the epic tragedy, drama, fear, despair and promise colliding at once in Washington, DC these days, there is some good old-fashioned nose counting underway. And it is a doozie of a count: which Republican Senators might vote to convict ex-President Donald Trump at the climax of the upcoming Senate impeachment trial?
We don’t know when that trial will occur. Most likely it will begin as soon as the Monday after Joe Biden is inaugurated, but it might be delayed for some time or, in theory, the articles might not ever be sent to the Senate at all. Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell and the Biden Administration are all discussing how to proceed, with the Democrats trying to find a way to triangulate three enormous demands: approval of Biden’s Cabinet, jumpstarting his COVID management agenda, and conducting the Senate impeachment trial of Trump. While some Democrats are arguing that a delay in the trial would be advantageous as even more Trump-damning information may emerge, it seems more likely that the “strike while the iron is hot” contingent will carry the day, and some split-duty schedule is followed.
The Senate is far more likely to convict Trump this time around for any number of reasons. After all, the Senators were, along with their House colleagues, the target of the insurrection and felt the violence and the threat firsthand. And a conviction carries the sweet carrot of offering a means of keeping Trump from ever holding office again (via a separate vote that would follow a conviction). A few GOP Senators view this as a moral imperative, others seek to rid the GOP of Trump forever and move on, and still others want to remove Trump as a formidable direct competitor for the 2024 GOP nomination.
The evidence is clear and persuasive. There is video of Trump inciting the mob, in incendiary language, exhorting them to march to the Capitol while the Senate and House jointly deliberated certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election. The election fraud claims that Trump has peddled for months – the “stolen” election that forms the basis of the mob’s anger -- have been demonstrated to be false countless times. Trump’s obstruction of the peaceful transition, a bedrock of our democracy, could hardly be better documented. This included a private phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, bullying him to “find” the votes needed for Trump to surpass Biden – all captured by the resourceful Raffensperger, who wisely taped the call and released it to the press.
But the most important distinguishing factor this time around may very well be Mitch McConnell, who supported the House impeachment process this time after adamantly opposing it the last. McConnell has made it abundantly clear that he is open-minded (though undecided) on the matter of conviction. His ultimate decision could tip the balance one way or the other, as other fence-sitters may follow his lead.
None of this means Trump will be convicted. It's just that the odds are far higher than last year, when the GOP, save Romney, was in lockstep opposition.
But who among the 50 GOP Senators might join the sure-to-be-united Democratic 50 member caucus? To achieve conviction, at least 17 GOP Senators must join the Democrats to achieve the required two-thirds conviction threshold.
We see the GOP Senators falling into three groups: 1) the few almost certain to convict, 2) the ones who are open to conviction but are almost surely watching what Mitch McConnell decides, and 3) the vast majority who are either on the record as opposing impeachment or almost certainly are in that group.
As it happens, the first two groups add up to exactly 17. That does not leave much margin for error, but never forget that McConnell knows how to count votes, and there is little chance he is going to be on the losing side.
Among the factors to consider are which Senators have been critical of Trump in the past; whether they are up for reelection in 2022 and thus must pay careful attention to the Trump supporters; whether they have aspirations for the 2024 GOP nomination; how damning they have been about Trump’s behavior in the insurrection; and whether they supported Trump’s efforts to upend the election.
Let’s give a thumbnail profile of each Senator by group:
Almost Certain to Convict (5)
· Mitt Romney, Utah. The 2012 GOP presidential nominee has become the conscience of the right, often critiquing Trump and the only GOP vote to impeach in 2019. Plus he is solid in Utah, where Trump is not terribly popular, and is not up for reelection until 2024.
· Lisa Murkowski, Alaska. The longstanding thorn in Trump’s side has all but announced she is going to vote to convict.
· Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania. Toomey has announced he will not run for reelection in 2022. Like other Republicans before him who were on the verge of leaving office (see: Jeff Flake), Toomey has broken with Trump and has been openly supportive of impeachment.
· Susan Collins, Maine. Collins just won a surprisingly easy reelection in Maine over a well-funded opponent. She has long been lampooned for her “concern” with Trump, and vilified for her view that Trump had “learned his lesson’ in the Mueller investigation. It is time for her to shore up support from center-left Mainers and translate that concern into a conviction vote.
· Ben Sasse, Nebraska. Sasse has been unsparing of his critiques of Trump throughout the transition, and at times before then, and just won reelection, so he is a near certain conviction vote.
Open to Impeachment and Possibly Waiting for McConnell (12)
We’ve listed these Senators roughly in order of the likelihood they will support impeachment, with all of them more or less contingent on McConnell’s decision.
· Mitch McConnell, Kentucky. The Senate Leader just won his reelection and is concerned about regaining the Senate in 2022, and believes ridding the GOP of Trump is central to its future. He openly supported impeachment and has said he is on the fence about conviction. It is all up to him; if he votes to convict, enough GOP Senators will surely follow to get to 17. If he does not, it could be just the five above joining the Democrats.
· John Thune, South Dakota. Thune, the GOP Senate’s number two as Minority Whip, will surely follow McConnell. His claim to anti-Trump fame was memorably calling Trump’s efforts to overturn the Senate’s certification process “would go down like a shot dog.”
· Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia. She has indicated that Trump “owns” the insurrection and that his actions were “inexcusable.” And she was just reelected, so she will not face a threat for six years.
· John Cornyn, Texas. Cornyn just won reelection, and is widely known to hold Trump in utter contempt, and has broken with him on a few issues, notably the Wall, COVID and foreign policy. He knows Texas is turning purple and Trump has to be ejected as part of a GOP reinvention for him to survive there.
· Thom Tillis, North Carolina. Tillis just won a second-term in a close one in a purple state, and he’ll need a conviction vote to win again in 2026 in his state.
· Richard Burr, North Carolina. Burr has decided that he will not run for reelection in 2022. Like Toomey, he thus faces no electoral consequences for a conviction vote. He ran the Senate Intelligence Committee with surprising dignity in the Trump years.
· Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma. The Chair of the Armed Services Committee – succeeding John McCain – was furious over Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. Trump was unhappy with the lack of provisions relating to social media and protections for military bases named for Confederate generals – and Inhofe was incensed Trump would veto legislation that had passed routinely for 60 consecutive years. He was just reelected and amply protected if he chooses to vote to convict.
· Mike Lee, Utah. Lee was surprisingly forceful in opposing Trump’s attempts to upend the certification process, especially since he has been a long-time ally of one of the ringleaders of the movement, Ted Cruz.
· Rob Portman, Ohio. Portman passes for a moderate these days in the GOP, and occasionally exhibits modest pangs of conscience with respect to Trump. He will likely convict with McConnell providing him cover, but it will be a tough one since he is up for reelection in 2022.
· Chuck Grassley, Iowa. The GOP Senate’s elder statesmen (at age 89) has been highly critical of Trump’s actions with respect to the insurrection, declaring that Trump has already disqualified himself. But he is up for reelection in 2022, and, despite his age, just may do it. And Iowa is becoming redder every election.
· Deb Fischer, Nebraska. Fischer is the quieter of the Nebraska Senators relative to Ben Sasse, but she issued a strong statement in support of the Biden certification, has been silent on the impeachment and thus appears to be open to the Senate process.
· Tom Cotton, Arkansas. Cotton, a deeply conservative Trump supporter, has 2024 presidential aspirations and already he has chosen a different path than his neighbor and fellow potential contender, Josh Hawley. Cotton chose to oppose Hawley in the certification battle, supporting Biden, and he may play his hand all the way with a conviction vote, which also helps him to clear the 2024 field of Trump. It’s a huge gamble for the young Arkansas Senator.
Almost Certain to Acquit (33)
These Senators have either announced their intention to oppose conviction or almost certainly will acquit Trump.
· Lindsey Graham, South Carolina. The longtime Trump apologist and BFF has taken the mantel for leading the pro-Trump charge in the Senate, informally whipping votes to acquit.
· Rand Paul, Kentucky. Paul is always a wild-card but he is more or less on the record opposing conviction, convinced that one-third of the current GOP will leave the party if the Senate convicts Trump.
· Ron Johnson, Wisconsin. Johnson has been such a vocal and visible Trump supporter it would be shocking if he did not vote to acquit him (even though he did switch his certification views after the insurrection and supported certifying Biden). Johnson is up for reelection in 2022 and will not risk a split with Trump voters now.
· Marco Rubio, Florida. One might think Rubio would be itching to get Trump out of the 2024 field, but he has publicly stated his opposition to impeachment and one would assume would be opposed to conviction.
· Rick Scott, Florida. Scott is using the now-conventional GOP line of opposing impeachment (and one would assume conviction) based on the need for “national unity.”
· Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee. Although she switched her announced certification vote (from opposition to support) after the insurrection, Blackburn is a very vocal and colorful Trump supporter and will certainly vote against conviction.
· Jodi Ernst, Iowa. Ernst just went through a difficult reelection in a state that is turning from purple to red. Six years from now she will not want a conviction vote on her record.
· Tim Scott, South Carolina. Scott expressed strong public aversion to impeachment and likely would feel the same about a Senate conviction.
· The Anti-Certification Six. The six Senators who stuck with their pre-riot anti-certification stances and voted against certifying Biden have essentially already acquitted him and, having pushed their chips on Trump to the center of the table in that manner, it would be shocking if they did otherwise. How they could march back into that room after fearing for their lives at the hands of a Trump-incited mob – which was well known at the time – is beyond the pale. Eight other Senators who had announced support for decertification changed their minds after the events of the day.
o Josh Hawley, Missouri. The ringleader and enabler of the anti-certification movement, the ultimate ambition-at-any-cost conservative with an eye toward capturing the Trump wing in his own 2024 presidential bid.
o Ted Cruz, Texas. He quickly signed on with Hawley and was his wingman, for essentially the exact same reasons.
o Tommy Tuberville, Alabama. Trump and Giuliani were still calling the newly elected former Auburn football coach at 7 PM on January 6, begging him to challenge more states so the certification process could be delayed further, thus giving Trump more time to change the minds of state legislators.
o John Kennedy, Louisiana. The rumpled conservative has become a darling of the Trumpsters.
o Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi. The low profile Senator was a surprise “yes” vote against Biden’s certification since she was not on the original list of 14 supporters.
o Roger Marshall, Kansas. No daylight has ever emanated between Marshall and Trump.
The rest of the Senators in this bucket are low-profile Trump supporters from deep red western and southern states who have never broken with Trump or uttered a critical word about him. All but one are white men, and most are older (their average age is 66). They are the bland faces who represent the heart of Trump world, and they march in lockstep in Trump’s parade. If they have never once broken with Trump before – not even in the last few weeks, when so many others have done so for the first time -- it is unlikely they will suddenly find a conscience during the Senate trial. We’ve noted which of them indicated public opposition to certification, but changed their minds and supported it after the insurrection. As you peruse the list, ask yourself how many of them are completely unknown to you. Don't be surprised if it is most or all of the list.
· John Barasso, Wyoming.
· Roy Blunt, Missouri.
· John Boozman, Arkansas.
· Mike Braun, Indiana. Supported not certifying Trump but changed mind after insurrection.
· Bill Cassidy, Louisiana.
· Kevin Cramer, North Dakota.
· Mike Crapo, Idaho.
· Steve Daines, Montana. Supported not certifying Trump but changed mind after insurrection.
· Bill Hagerty, Tennessee. Supported not certifying Trump but changed mind after insurrection.
· John Hoeven, North Dakota.
· James Lankford, Oklahoma. Supported not certifying Trump but changed mind after insurrection.
· Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming. Supported not certifying Trump but changed mind after insurrection.
· Jerry Moran, Kansas.
· James Risch, Idaho.
· Mike Rounds, South Dakota.
· Richard Shelby, Alabama.
· Dan Sullivan, Alaska.
· Roger Wicker, Mississippi.
· Todd Young, Indiana.
I offer three final caveats to this exercise:
The first is that Donald Trump’s approval rating has not fallen very much over the last two weeks -- about five points. This drop may have been enough to loosen his vicelike grip on the GOP, but not enough to sever it, by any means. The drop may not be enough for more than a few to convict him.
The second is that Mitch McConnell is now the most unpopular person in America. The Democrats have always hated him, and his favorability rating among Republicans has dropped significantly with his break from Trump -- the crazies hate him now, too. We may be overstating the willingness of GOP fence-sitters to follow him.
The third is Joe Manchin. He is the most conservative Democratic Senator, from deep red West Virginia, and he is now, after Joe Biden, the second most powerful person in Washington, D.C. Manchin might very well vote against conviction, and then another GOP vote must be found from a seemingly intractable pool.