“We were going to get a noisy, destructive end to the Trump administration”: U-M community reacts to Trump acquittal by Senate
After nearly a week of listening to oral arguments and viewing previously undisclosed footage of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection during former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, the United States Senate voted to acquit Trump on Saturday.
Trump was impeached by the House for inciting the riot and challenging the results of the November 2020 general election. The final vote of 57-43 was 10 votes short of a conviction. All 50 Senate Democrats and seven Republicans voted to convict.
This was the first impeachment in over a century in which a Senate majority voted to convict the president, and the two impeachments of Trump were the only two in history in which members of the president’s own party voted to convict.
Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Richard Burr, R-N.C., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Pat Toomey, R-Penn., voted with the Democrats to convict Trump. Local GOP organizations criticized many of these senators for voting to convict.
While Romney’s vote was largely expected, Burr, a long-time Trump supporter, surprised the chamber by voting to convict. In a statement, Burr said the “facts are clear” that Trump worked to undermine the election results and played a role in inciting the insurrection.
At the University of Michigan, the impeachment and Trump’s eventual acquittal raised questions about what the future holds for the Republican Party, the former president and the nation.
According to Law School professor Richard Primus, an expert in the theory and history of the US constitution, the country made a “big mistake” by not voting to convict the former president in his first impeachment trial.
“There was no way that by leaving Trump in office a year ago we were going to get a quiet end to the Trump administration through an election,” Primus said. “We were going to get a noisy, destructive end to the Trump administration, and that's what we got.”
Primus said the Republican Party now faces a crucial turning point — they will either decide to adopt a Trumpist style of leadership or move in a different direction.
“A lot for this country depends on what happens within the Republican Party now,” Primus said. “Whether the Republicans, who know that Trump-style leadership of their party and of the country is destructive, are willing and able to make a fight about that and see if they can make something better, or whether one of the two major parties will simply become a Trump-like party.”
Robert Mickey, associate professor of political science, echoed Primus’s stance on the future of the Republican Party and said it is important to recognize internal party divisions.
“Until the Republican Party sorts itself out, American democracy is still going to be under threat,” Mickey said. “Through our election law, we have, really, a system with two political parties, and when you only have two parties, neither can be an extremist party. Right now, one has evolved into becoming an extremist party.”
Ryan Fisher, LSA junior and chairman of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said the Republican Party was divided over the decision to convict or acquit Trump. According to Fisher, uniting the party will be an arduous task.
“The acquittal precedes an intraparty showdown over former President Trump's role moving forward, both ideologically and personally,” Fisher said. “There is a lot of disagreement, something evident even within our own organization. It will be a tough road moving forward as the party seeks to reunite around an updated platform.”
Fisher criticized the censure of Republican senators who voted against party lines to convict, saying it is more important to identify with the party as a whole than with specific individuals like Trump.
“We believe that GOP Senators who voted to convict should not be censured,” Fisher said. “It is important to respect divergent viewpoints in the party, including those incidentally at odds with former leaders. Being a Republican chiefly entails staying committed to certain ideologies rather than adopting blind allegiance to any particular individual.”
The University’s chapter of College Democrats did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment in time for publication.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized the former president in a speech on the Senate floor Saturday. Yet McConnell ultimately voted not to convict, arguing that the Senate cannot try a private citizen.
“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” McConnell said in his fiery speech.
While the constitution prohibits the Senate from trying private citizens, legal scholars of both parties largely agree that former presidents can be tried by the Senate for their actions while in office. Prior to and during the impeachment hearings, legal experts said this constitutional issue is not a reason to acquit Trump.
In a letter to his GOP colleagues shortly after the articles of impeachment were introduced in the House on Jan. 13, McConnell pushed to delay Trump’s impeachment trial until after Biden’s inauguration. He said it would “serve our nation best” for the Senate to focus on an orderly transition of power rather than an impeachment trial.
Mickey praised McConnell’s choice to give the speech, but alluded he was unhappy that McConnell did not vote to convict.
“I think it's good that he gave his speech,” Mickey said. “I'm glad that he gave this speech. The first half of the speech read like exactly the text he would have given before he said, ‘and therefore I vote to convict’.”
In response to McConnell’s speech, Trump released a statement late Tuesday condemning McConnell’s rhetoric on the Senate floor.
“Mitch is a dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” the statement read.
LSA freshman Yatin Bhat said he has mixed feelings about Trump’s acquittal, especially because it means Trump is eligible to run for office in 2024.
“I believe that Trump’s reputation and political power have been significantly diminished over the past couple of months due to a variety of reasons,” Bhat said. “However, the acquittal and his ability to run for office again in the future set an interesting precedent looking ahead.”
Bhat said the Capitol insurrection was indicative of the former president’s “blatant disregard for our nation’s election system” and the impeachment process was the right call, regardless of the outcome.
“I believe that the process itself was the bare minimum that had to be done in order to remind our nation and former president that such actions cannot be tolerated,” Bhat said. “If a candidate is willing to stand for election using the American election system, the candidate must consequently be willing to accept the results of that system.”
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