Donald Trump has now been rebuked like no other president: He is the first-ever president to be impeached by the House of Representatives twice, and he is also the first-ever president to have the House call for his Cabinet and vice president to remove him from office.
In fact, there have been just four presidential impeachments in American history — and Trump now represents half of that total. The actual words used in the article of impeachment adopted by the House on Wednesday were both incredibly damning and also an accurate portrayal of the president’s conduct since November’s election. Trump, according to the House, was “inciting violence against the Government of the United States,” “threatened the integrity of the democratic system,” and “imperiled a coequal branch of Government.”
But the power of the rebukes of Trump is somewhat blunted by the fact that they have been largely partisan. No House Republican voted for Trump’s impeachment in 2019 over the pressure he exerted on the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens, and only one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, supported removing Trump from office. In the wake of the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, only one Republican House member, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, supported invoking the 25th Amendment to have Trump removed from office on Tuesday, and today only nine House Republicans joined Kinzinger in supporting impeachment.
This strong Republican loyalty to the president is a very important and historic dynamic.
It’s important not to overstate the size of the opposition to Trump in the GOP simply because it includes some high-profile members of the party. Romney, the party’s one-time presidential nominee, and Rep. Liz Cheney, both the No. 3 Republican in the party’s leadership and the daughter of a Republican vice president, have cast Trump as a terrible president and supported his removal from office. A third major Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has allowed his allies to leak to the press that he believes Trump has committed impeachable offenses. A few other Republicans in the Senate, most notably Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have suggested that they might back Trump’s removal from office or a post-presidency conviction of the impeachment charge, but it’s still unclear if they would actually do so.
But the overwhelming majority of Republicans in the House still voted against impeachment even after the invasion of the Capitol that put their lives at risk. McConnell is also not pushing to have a quick Senate vote to remove Trump from office, because it’s likely that most Republican senators don’t want to deal with the issue, not wanting to cast a vote in favor of Trump’s actions but also wary of trying to force him from office. Pence and Trump’s Cabinet opposed the idea of removing him via the 25th Amendment. And polls suggest that a clear majority of Republican voters don’t want Trump impeached or removed from office.
If there is a battle going on for control of the Republican Party, at least right now, those allied with Trump and Trumpism are winning — and it’s not particularly close. The Republican Party has a bloc of people like Cheney and Sasse that is clearly uncomfortable with Trump and Trumpism and a group that strongly embraces Trumpism, such as Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and others in the House Freedom Caucus.
But a lot of Republicans in Congress aren’t necessarily all that committed to Trumpism or all that firmly against it. Rather, they are politicians who are trying to land in the right spot to keep their jobs and position themselves for runs for higher office. And the impeachment votes from Republicans on Capitol Hill tell a clear story: They think the best bet for a Republican politician, at least right now, is to stay aligned with Trump, and that the party base is more connected to Trump than to traditional democratic norms and values or the GOP of the past, led by people like former Vice President Dick Cheney and Romney. In fact, the person who might lose their job through this process is not Trump but Liz Cheney, as Jordan and his allies are trying to have her removed from Republican leadership because of her impeachment vote.
Finally, despite this vote, it seems almost certain that Trump will get to finish out his term, something that didn’t seem so clear a week ago. This, too, is basically a story of the Republican Party sticking with Trump — the Cabinet was unwilling to remove him, and so were GOP senators.
Put all this together and you have a complicated story of the end of Trump’s presidency. The House of Representatives has rebuked him like it has no other president — passing two separate provisions (the 25th Amendment proposal, then impeachment) in a rush to get him out of office, even though he had only two weeks left in his presidency and had already been impeached once. But while it’s officially the U.S. House that rebuked Trump, these votes were almost entirely partisan, it was essentially only Democrats who rebuked him. Trump will now get to finish out his term and avoid a complete repudiation of his presidency, with a lot of votes in opposition to him from both parties. So right now, it’s not clear whether Trump will be remembered as a historically terrible president — or just a historically terrible president according to Democrats.