The minefield of the indictment is waiting for the 2024 GOP field

What is the prosecution process really about? Playbook Rachel Bade says it’s more about convincing the American public – rather than lawmakers – that Trump will never be able to take office again.

At least half a dozen senators – and perhaps more – could be credibly considered potential candidates for president in 2024. And while almost all of them are expected to vote for Trump’s dismissal, it’s a strategic strategy The approach taken during the trial offers the clearest possible window for assessing the post-Trump landscape of the GOP – and how it is planned to maneuver in it.

There is a broad consensus among Republican strategists on one thing: the trial is politically detrimental to Senate candidates in 2024, diverting attention from hearings in which senators can object unreservedly to President Joe Biden’s cabinet candidates – which is an almost universal GOP attraction.

Defending Trump is a trickier endeavor. And the rules of procedure for prosecution do not help. Senate rules severely restrict senators ’ability to speak during the trial itself, restricting camera appearances primarily to Capitol corridors and peripheral TV cameras. These venues are less writable than making prepared remarks at a committee hearing or on the Senate floor, leaving more room for error.

Republican senators are expected to refrain as much as possible from defending Trump’s behavior against riots in the Capitol, arguing, rather than for weeks, that it is unconstitutional to hold a former president accountable. In addition, they sought to reverse the focus on Democrats, arguing that Democrats tolerate incendiary rhetoric when serving their own affairs.

“For Republicans who want to be president, they have to somehow state that they stand for Donald Trump on due process and on a fair basis,” said Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist and former deputy attorney general for Ohio. “Few want to provide a full-throated defense of everything Donald Trump has said and done, which means the safest way is to point out that this is truly the political stunt of democracy … You want to move from defense to insult. “

If Republicans follow this line of thinking, it will bring them into line with what is happening in Trump’s own law-making. team. Trump’s chief attorney, Bruce Castor, said Friday, “a lot of ribbons are burning from cities and courts are attacking, federal agents are being attacked by riots on the streets, Democrats are cheering all over the country.”

Cruz telegraphed the same approach, calling accountability a process driven by “partisan rage,” contrary to Biden’s calls for post-election unity.

“Democrats are showing a lot of hypocrisy right now,” the Texas senator said.

In a pre-election of 2024 in which Republicans will compete with each other rather than Democrats, the Senate trial offers an opportunity to strengthen the marginal fault lines between them. This is because even small segments of the turf can be critical in policy nomination, and prospective candidates rarely have the opportunity to corner them.

By opposing the Biden Election College victory justification, Cruz and Hawley embraced the Trump-side primary band more fully than any other potential candidate. Choosing a middle ground, Cotton, Arkansas broke up with Cruz and Hawley, formulating justification for the election as a constitutional argument before raising a constitutional argument against prosecution.

“You’re sure to see candidates – or senators trying to run for candidates – try to create some space,” said Lanhee Chen, chief adviser to Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, outlining the responses from those who “aggressively support the president in their for those who will support it, but perhaps with protests, towards those who oppose it more directly if they think this band will be in 2024 ”.

In addition to other senators and several other Republican contestants, there is also the former president to worry. A senator who calculates that Trump may start again in 2024 may approach the prosecution process differently than he thinks he won’t.

“If you look at this through a 2024 observer, you basically have two options for how to handle this,” said Kevin Madden, a former Romney consultant. – Or think so [Trump’s] it will run and you will have to face it sometime. And in this case, they will ask themselves, “Am I choosing this fight by prosecution now, or later this fight?”

Madden said, “If you think you’re not going to start and want your blessing and the energy of a Trump-enthusiastic voter, I think you’re more likely to just … insist on the argument that 85 percent of the Republican base agrees. to hold an incumbent president accountable is a useless practice, the process has begun and then a great deal of myth is being thrown at the Democrats. “

Democrats are almost certain not to find the 17 Republican votes needed to condemn Trump, with the exception of five Republican senators – Ben Sasse, Romney, Pat Toomey, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – who voted to declare the impeachment trial unconstitutional.

The fear of Republicans is if Trump’s team deviates from its constitutional defense, instead redefining Trump’s baseless allegations that the election was stolen from him, or arguing that his behavior before the riot was entirely appropriate.

Even to the senators who hugged Trump the most, Heckman said, “If I were to give them advice, I would say,‘ Stay in the package. ’I just don’t know how you win on this … It’s definitely going to be interesting to see someone put it is the argument that Trump didn’t do bad.It’s a guy who becomes a hero in the Trump coalition, but I don’t know how to extend it beyond that.

Sasse, a critic of Trump, did not say how he would vote on the prosecution. But he clearly blamed Trump for the deadly riot in the Capitol, which angered GOP activists in his homeland. And he doesn’t seem likely to back down. Last week, Sasse released a video he called political politics driven by “a strange adoration of a dude”.

For Sasse, a vote of condemnation could further strengthen his position in the anti-Trump band – with the opportunity to be politically rewarded if GOP voters become less attentive to Trump by 2024.

But for everyone else, the political calculation clearly points to a vote in favor of an exemption.

Between the House and the Senate, Curt Anderson, the Florida senator’s chief adviser, said Rick Scott, another prospective 2024 candidate, about five percent of all GOP members are likely to vote to indict Trump.

“Anyone considering a presidential election will be 95% in the other,” he wrote in an email. “Because it’s unconstitutional, political theater, and the case is silly and weak.”