Trump is acquitted but the Senate convicts itself

The former president survives a thoroughly cynical affair

Donald Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Donald Trump was acquitted in an impeachment trial on Saturday for the second time in as many years. Once again there was very little suspense. With a handful of exceptions, Senate Republicans had made it clear weeks ago that they had no intention of even entertaining the evidence in proceedings they dismissed as unconstitutional. The vote failed 57-43, with seven GOP defections, from Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey respectively. From beginning to end these solemn judicial proceedings took five days, far less time than the average felony trial.

For a brief moment it did appear as if this might not be the case. In a bizarre series of events on Saturday morning, senators briefly voted 55-45 at the bidding of House impeachment managers to call witnesses before withdrawing their own request. Such a course of action would have prolonged the trial by several weeks. Democrats seeking to justify their about-face here will no doubt insist that witness testimony would not have changed the mind of a single Republican. This is probably true. But it elides the more important question of why they bothered going ahead with the trial in the first place in full knowledge that conviction was not just unlikely but virtually impossible. I cannot help but think that Lindsey Graham, who came out in favor of calling witnesses a few hours before voting to acquit, was trying to make a rhetorical point about the cynicism of the whole enterprise.

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Matthew Walther

Matthew Walther is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has also appeared in First Things, The Spectator of London, The Catholic Herald, National Review, and other publications. He is currently writing a biography of the Rev. Montague Summers. He is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow.