Republican Acquittal of Trump Is a Defining Moment for Party

During the first trial of Donald J. Trump, some 13 months ago, the former president commanded near-total fealty from his party. His conservative defenders were ardent and numerous, and Republican votes to convict him — for pressuring Ukraine to help him smear Joseph R. Biden Jr. — were virtually nonexistent.

In his second trial, Mr. Trump, no longer president, received less ferocious Republican support. His apologists were sparser in number and seemed to lack in enthusiasm. Far fewer conservatives defended the substance of his actions, instead dwelling on technical complaints while skirting the issue of his guilt on the charge of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

And this time, seven Republican senators voted with 50 Democrats to convict Mr. Trump — the most bipartisan repudiation ever delivered in an impeachment process.

Yet the great majority of Republicans refused to find Mr. Trump guilty on Saturday, leaving the chamber well short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict him.

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who startled his party last month with a sharp denunciation of Mr. Trump’s conduct, voted to acquit, relying on thin procedural arguments.

Mr. Trump’s acquittal stands as a defining moment for the party he molded into a cult of personality, one likely to linger in the eyes of voters and leave a deep blemish in the historical record. Now that Republicans have passed up an opportunity to banish him through impeachment, it is not clear when — or how — they might go about transforming their party into something other than a vessel for a semiretired demagogue who was repudiated by a majority of voters.

Defeated by President Biden, stripped of his social-media megaphone, impeached again by the House of Representatives and accused of betraying his oath by a handful of Republican dissenters, Mr. Trump remains the dominant force in right-wing politics. Even offline and off camera at his Palm Beach estate, and offering only a feeble impeachment defense through his legal team in Washington, the former president continues to command unmatched admiration from conservative voters.

The Trump Impeachment ›

What You Need to Know

    • A trial was held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
    • The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
    • The Senate acquitted Mr. Trump of the charges by a vote of 57 to 43, falling short of the two-thirds majority required for a conviction.
    • Without a conviction, the former president is eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.

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