Barring an enormously compelling performance by the Democratic prosecutors, the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump will almost certainly end up with his acquittal, despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s protestations.
“They don’t know that. They don’t know that. They don’t know that. They haven’t heard the case,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday when it was suggested the trial was over before it begins on February 9.
The reality is Democrats need 17 Republicans to vote with them to convict Trump on the House’s article of impeachment charging him with “incitement” of the January 6 riot at the US Capitol that left five dead. It does not take a political expert to know there are nowhere near 17 Republicans who would side with the Democrats on this.
President Joe Biden and the Democrats are keenly aware of this and are pushing for a speedy trial. Republicans know this, too, and are also pushing for a speedy trial, while arguing that it is all a stunt, unfair or even unconstitutional.
But even if the outcome is predetermined, both sides will do their best to use the trial as an opportunity to set up political narratives, with each side hoping those narratives influence next year’s mid-term elections and perhaps even the next presidential contest in 2024.
The post-trial script is likely already written for Trump and his supporters. It will sound very much like the script he used after he was acquitted in last February’s impeachment trial: “We went through hell, unfairly. I did nothing wrong … It was all bulls***.”
It has become a popular mantra within the GOP, blaming Democrats, the media, “big tech” and the “deep state” for trying to “silence” Trump and other Republicans. And it is a message that is working, at least for those who are deeply reliant on the Republican base to keep them in business.
For instance, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was removed from her committee posts by the US House on Thursday after threatening, incendiary, conspiracy theory-laden and anti-Semitic comments of hers came to light, offered some words of contrition but ultimately tried to flip the script.
She accused Democrats of dismissing Trump and the concerns of Republicans, telling reporters on Friday, “They don’t care what Republicans have to say” and saying Republican voters are “tired of being attacked because they want to wear a red hat that says ‘Make America Great Again’”.
Republicans do not have a monopoly on martyrdom. In the current political climate, playing the victim pays handsomely.
For instance, Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar sent out a fundraising appeal after House Republicans this week called for Omar’s removal from the Foreign Affairs committee in retaliation for the Greene effort.
“Let’s be clear: This resolution to remove Ilhan is rooted in racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry and we must call it out,” read the Omar fundraising email, which sought to raise $150,000, reported Fox News.
That being said, the “world is out to get us” theme with Trump as the central figure has become a foundational one for Republicans and his acquittal is sure to cement that strategy in their campaigns moving forward.
Democrats’ QAnon cudgel
After Pelosi pushed back on the idea that an acquittal is a certainty, she added, “In the court of public opinion, they will make their case and for history and posterity, as our founders said to ourselves and our posterity, they will make the case.”
In other words, Pelosi and Democrats will lay out their argument that Trump and Republicans are beholden to the extreme right-wing fringe that backs QAnon and other conspiracy theories. The trial – and Senate Republicans’ votes to acquit – will undoubtedly become a focal point for Democrats as they look to maintain their control of the House and Senate in the 2022 midterms.
The messaging has already begun against House Republicans.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week launched a series of advertisements against House Republicans who voted for impeachment last month.
“QAnon … took over the Republican Party,” the ads begin before showing pictures of the January 6 riot. “And with Donald Trump, incited a mob that attacked the Capitol and murdered a cop.”
Republican officials are pushing back on these ads: “It’s patently false to say any member targeted in the DCCC’s ads supports QAnon,” a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman told the Washington Post.
But the Democrats clearly sense a political opening here: package Republicans in battleground districts with the fringe and top it off by connecting them to Trump and the Capitol riot.
Over the coming months, Republicans will continue to wrestle with the extreme elements of their party while strengthening their base by portraying themselves as victims of overreaching Democrats who are trying to silence Trump supporters. Democrats will set the stage for their “Republican equals QAnon” theme during the trial and run full-steam ahead with that towards the next election.
It is through this lens, not whether Trump is convicted or acquitted, that the upcoming impeachment trial should be viewed.