The Republican Party set a dangerous new political precedent by acquitting former President, Donald Trump

Illustration by Olivia Madrzyk | The Signal

We are now over a month into the Biden Administration, yet the previous administration still holds an overwhelming power over the Republican party. On Feb. 13, the U.S. Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump on the charges that he incited the insurrection on Jan. 6.

Despite it being the most bipartisan impeachment trial in history, this was the likely outcome, with seven Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in a vote to convict. Even with all of that support and the seemingly overwhelming evidence, the prosecution still could not reach the 67 votes needed to convict. 

The question becomes, even with all of that evidence, why did 43 Republicans vote to acquit? The simple answer is politics. Take what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said right after the vote was taken. 

“Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. 

And yet, he still voted to acquit. Why? Because he has to answer to his voters back home. Whether people like it or not, Donald Trump is still extremely popular among Republican voters. This popularity forces many Republicans to play nice, so their supporters will not vote them out during next year’s midterms. 

Many senators made a beeline for the door after the vote, ready to make it home for their break from Washington. Many of them returned to phone calls from angry voters that their president is once again on trial. Not because Republicans are holding up financial relief, but because Donald Trump’s many lawyers have to answer to his actions.

Many Republicans are hiding behind the idea of, “well, he’s not in the office.” Leader McConnell said as much. But little do they know, this vote set a dangerous precedent for future presidents. Using this particular trial, presidents will now have more leeway to break the law during their lame-duck sessions.

Donald Trump got away with inciting an attack on the legislative branch because he was no longer in office during the trial. He was in office while his actions, and lack thereof, took place. But because the trial occurred while he wasn’t president, many Republicans voted to acquit the man who put their lives at risk.

The Republicans further set a new precedent by allowing the impeachment process to be turned into a political showdown. Trump’s lawyer did little more than gaslight and lie about what occurred on that day. They acquitted Trump despite evidence showing that he endangered the senators’ lives, including his own vice president. His actions led to the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer. 

Look at what Republicans were saying after tallying the vote on Feb. 13. Many said that simply because he’s not in office anymore, he shouldn’t be convicted of actions during his presidency. 

This vote will open the door for future presidents to act in their self-interests during the last January of their administration. 

Republicans have made it crystal clear that no matter what someone does, you must stick up for members of your party, even if their argument is lousy. This vote also now opens the door for Donald Trump to run again in 2024, which he all but confirmed at this point. Well, that’s assuming he’s not in jail for one of the many charges he faces in New York and Georgia. 

Even knowing that, even with Trump completely fumbling a global pandemic, somehow making the U.S. hated even more on the world stage and spouting dangerous rhetoric and policies, the Grand Old Party continues to give him a platform. They continue to fundraise off his name. And despite losing at least two elections with candidates that supported him, Republicans continue to support him.

But maybe Republicans are right to be scared. After Sen. Ben Cassidy voted to convict, his state’s Republican Party sanctioned him, possibly setting him up for blowback come his reelection time in six years. By then, many voters will forget this even happened. 

But the most dangerous consequence of this vote has to be the balance of power. The constitution is written in a way that provides checks and balances between all branches of government. This is a fundamental concept that American students learn in middle school. But with this vote, the halls of Congress have given up their power to check the White House.

The sitting president sent an armed and angry mob to the Capitol to prevent the certification of an election that he lost. And instead of reminding future presidents that they can’t just do whatever they want, they practically said you could do whatever you want as long as you are about to leave the office.

And mind you, this show of weakness comes from Republicans who spent eight years under Obama trying to show that the two government branches are equal. 

But this has been a regular occurrence for Trump. I think we all remember when he said that he could walk in the middle of 5th Avenue in New York and kill someone, and he’d get away with it. I think we all remember that 16 women since the 2016 election have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.

If someone like me, a 21-year-old black man, did something like this, he’d be arrested on the spot. Meanwhile, Donald Trump received a headlined spot at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Sen. Ben Sasse said it best: “If Congress cannot forcefully respond to an intimidation attack on Article I instigated by the head of Article II, our constitutional balance will be permanently tilted. A weak and timid Congress will increasingly submit to an emboldened and empowered presidency. That’s unacceptable. This institution needs to respect itself enough to tell the executive that some lines cannot be crossed.”

We are in a unique time in politics. It seems if you are too politically influential, you can do whatever you want, even if that thing is sending an angry mob to intimidate or even kill members of another branch of government.