Trump remains dominant force in GOP following acquittal

(AP) — The Republican Party still belongs to Donald Trump.

After he incited a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol last month, the GOP considered purging the norm-shattering former president. But in the end, only seven of 50 Senate Republicans voted to convict Trump in his historic second impeachment trial on Saturday.

For Trump’s loyalists, the acquittal offers a vindication of sorts and a fresh connection to the former president’s fiery base. And for Trump’s GOP antagonists, it marks another alarming sign that the party is lurching further in a dangerous direction with little desire to reconnect with the moderates, women and college-educated voters Trump alienated.

Ultimately, the resolution of the impeachment trial brings into clear relief a divide in the GOP that party leaders, donors and voters will have to navigate as they try to regain control of Congress next year and aim to retake the White House in 2024.

That tension was on display in the immediate aftermath of the vote. After supporting Trump’s acquittal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., delivered a speech that echoed some of the very points Democratic impeachment managers emphasized in seeking Trump’s conviction.

The former president, McConnell said, was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” that led to the insurrection. But he argued that there were no constitutional grounds for the Senate to convict Trump now that he’s out of office, a procedural point embraced by many in the GOP.

The history books will show that 10 members of the president’s party in the House and another seven in the Senate ultimately believed that Trump’s behavior was egregious enough to warrant conviction — and even a lifetime ban on holding future office. Not since former President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment in 1868 have so many members of a president’s party voted for his removal.

But by most objective measures, Trump’s grasp on the GOP and its future remains airtight.

Gallup reported last month that Trump’s approval among self-described Republicans stood at 82%. And more recently, Monmouth University found that 72% of Republicans continue to believe Trump’s false claims that President Joe Biden won the November election only because of widespread voter fraud.

Lest their be any doubt about Trump’s strength, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly last week to defend diehard Trump loyalist, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., even after evidence surfaced that she had repeatedly embraced violence, bigotry and conspiracy theories on social media.