It will permanently shape Trump’s reputation, said historians—as well as the reputations of the individual senators who voted to acquit. Others warned of a backlash against Democrats, or a violent anti-government movement emboldened by Trump being let off the hook. Some were more optimistic about its importance: The historian Mary Frances Berry, for instance, said Trump’s two-time acquittal would keep impeachment “rare and principled.” And quite possibly the final outcome is entirely outside the hands of Congress, or Washington: Geoffrey Kabaservice, the historian of conservative politics, thinks the final meaning depends less on what happened this week and more on the course American voters finally choose.
Their full responses are below.
‘The brilliant impeachment presentation will indelibly shape Trump’s image’
Ron Chernow is the author of Alexander Hamilton (2004) and several other books. He won the Pulitzer Prize in biography in 2011 for his biography of George Washington, Washington: A Life.
Perhaps too much attention was paid to whether House impeachment managers would persuade Republican senators to join them. Since it was always a foregone conclusion that those senators would rush to acquit, why did Democrats bother with this elaborate exercise? The answer is simple: The House managers addressed the court of public opinion and the court of history as well as the Senate. The disgraceful sacking of the Capitol was, like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, a seminal day in American history and, like them, it can be easily distorted in the future, spawning a thousand conspiracy theories. The House managers laid down an ironclad narrative, well documented and crisply reasoned, that will forever guide discussion of this event and prevent later, self-serving distortions of what happened. They worked to engrave the story in our national memory.
The single most important decision made by Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and his colleagues was to broaden their indictment from the events of January 6, narrowly cast, and convert it into an indictment of the whole Donald Trump presidency. The storming of the Capitol culminated years of Trump fomenting violence at his rallies and scoffing at democratic procedures in the White House. The House managers crafted a coherent vision of a president whose lawless, bullying style was inevitably aped by his followers and led straight to January 6. Whether he runs for office again or not, the brilliant impeachment presentation will shape indelibly Trump’s image for years to come.
‘The lack of a conviction for Trump sends a chilling message’
Keisha N. Blain is an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, a 2020-21 Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, and author of Set the World on Fire and Until I Am Free.
The failure to convict former President Donald Trump is unfortunate but not surprising. In effect, it reveals that violence and white supremacy will continue to shape American politics—as they have since the nation’s founding. The invasion of the Capitol on January 6 connects to a long history of white supremacist violence and terror. Throughout the nation’s history, white people have often used violence and intimidation to retain power—the list is long and includes white militias in the Antebellum South, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War and the Wilmington massacre of 1898. The insurrection of January 6 is only the most recent iteration of white supremacist violence cloaked under the guise of “political dissent.” The presence of racist symbols such as the Confederate flag and the noose underscore this point.
The Senate’s failure to hold Trump accountable—and in so doing, their failure to prevent him from running for office again—will have lasting, terrible consequences. The lack of a conviction for Trump sends a chilling message: Future presidents will face no accountability for inciting violence during and after an election. This outcome has now set a new and dangerous precedent, and aspiring Republican presidential candidates will likely attempt to follow in Trump’s footsteps.
‘We were left with a show trial’
Josh Blackman is a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, and the author of An Introduction to Constitutional Law: 100 Supreme Court Cases Everyone Should Know.
The impeachment largely didn’t matter to history. We were left with a show trial, which amounted to little more than political theater.
This proceeding could have made a definitive case that Donald Trump incited an insurrection. And I think that evidence could have shown conviction was warranted—especially concerning the official actions Trump took before and after the speech he made on January 6, the same day as the Capitol riot.
But this impeachment was rushed through, which ultimately made it ineffectual. The House approved a single article of impeachment one week after the incursion without developing any evidentiary record. The House did not hold any hearings, accept any sworn statements, subpoena former administration officials or request official documents. At the time, haste was understandable. The House insisted that Trump posed an existential threat, and he had to be removed immediately. But once January 20 passed, that existential threat disappeared.
Perhaps Trump may seek some future office in two or four years. But until then, there was no need to jam through a one-week hearing without any fact finding or oversight. After January 6, the House could have spent some time collecting testimony, documents and other evidence to build a case. But the House chose not to. Instead, it sent its managers to try Trump armed with newspaper clippings, surveillance footage, presidential tweets and Parler posts.
It’s no wonder the managers couldn’t prove Trump intended to incite an insurrection. They had no actual evidence that proved Trump’s state of mind. When the managers tried to introduce a second-hand account of Trump’s intent based on a conversation he had with Senator Mike Lee of Utah, Lee claimed it was inaccurate—and the managers ultimately had to withdraw the evidence. Still, the House managers could have called witnesses to build a record during the Senate trial, and even threatened to do so on Saturday. But they didn’t.
It seems the focus now will turn to President Biden’s agenda. So be it. Priorities matter.
‘An act of rage and vengeance rather than sober deliberation.’
Ken Blackwell is senior fellow for human rights and constitutional governance at the Family Research Council. He has served as mayor of Cincinnati, secretary of state and treasurer for Ohio, and undersecretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, among other offices.
This impeachment matters, but not in the ways many people would think. First, rushing through an impeachment with no due process, no witnesses, no hearings and no evidence of the crime alleged—incitement, which would require Donald Trump’s directly calling for physical violence, among other elements—will damage the impeachment process.
Second, this marks a new low in American politics, an act of rage and vengeance rather than sober deliberation.
Third, it illustrates how deeply cynical hypocrisy has become, in that Democrats cheered and laughed along with much more violent language coming from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Fourth, it shows that the cancel culture is infecting even our constitutional framework. And finally, the headline will be “Trump Acquitted”—which means that while Democrats might hate Donald Trump, he did not commit an impeachable offense.
‘Impeachment will almost inevitably produce a backlash’
Douglas E. Schoen is a Democratic pollster and strategist. He is the author of The Political Fix: Changing the Game of American Democracy, From the Grass Roots to the White House.
The second impeachment of Donald Trump has the potential to lead to a number of unintended, adverse consequences. Though Trump deserves to be held accountable for his behavior and speech on January 6th—and I support impeachment—the political impact of the Democrats doing so could well be deleterious to Democratic chances in 2022, and will likely carry other long-term consequences.
First, we can expect that the impeachment trial will further polarize an already divided electorate. To that end, voters are relatively split on the question of whether Trump should be convicted. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that 50 percent of Americans said the Senate should convict Trump, while 45 percent said they should acquit. To be sure, the first midterm for a presidential administration is always a difficult one for the incumbent party. Thus, coming out of the box initially with impeachment will make it more difficult rather than less difficult for Democrats to court Republican voters in 2022, and it will certainly make bipartisan cooperation in the legislature more challenging to achieve over the next few years.
In the long term, impeachment will almost inevitably produce a backlash that will continue long after the process is completed. In turn, the process will strengthen Trump’s standing with his already loyal base, and will further alienate these voters from the political mainstream, given that a number of more moderate Republicans have voiced their support for the process. Furthermore, in the long term, this second impeachment may also facilitate a greater likelihood that Republicans use impeachment against Democratic presidents, making it a more common tool, and less of an extraordinary option to express political opposition.
‘Trump was not exonerated’
Allan J. Lichtman is a history professor and author of The Case for Impeachment.
The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump has three distinct audiences: the senators, the American people and the incoming Attorney General Merrick Garland. The first audience was never the most important. The impeachment managers realized that no matter how powerful and compelling their case, most Republican senators had closed minds and would put party and personal political advantage above loyalty to country. Nonetheless, it is notable that for the first time in history, a bipartisan majority of both parties voted to convict an American president, even if the vote fell short of the two-thirds needed for conviction. Trump was not exonerated.
The managers pitched their presentation to the American people. If, as appears certain, Trump emerges diminished in the eyes of most Americans, his political career is over in practice, even if not formally in law. Already, a poll taken on the eve of the trial found that 53 percent of respondents opposed the idea of Trump running again, compared to just 37 percent who said they would support it. Trump also has much to deal with between now and 2024. His businesses, brand and approval ratings are tanking. He has $400+ million in loans coming due and faces an IRS audit. He has lost his Twitter account. He is under criminal investigation by district attorneys in New York and Georgia. He faces civil suits, including one by journalist E. Jean Carroll who claims that Trump raped her in the 1990s and that she has DNA evidence.
Trump’s attorney Bruce Castor suggested, astonishingly, that the remedy for Trump’s alleged incitement is not impeachment, but prosecution. “After he’s out of office, you go and arrest him,” Castor said. “There is no opportunity where the president of the United States can run rampant in January at the end of his term and go away scot-free.” Garland will have before him a consequential decision about whether to take up Castor’s challenge and indict the former president on incitement or possible conspiracy charges. He will have to carefully weigh the strength of a potential criminal case against the distraction and uproar that would follow from the charging of a former president.
‘Congress must immediately pass legislation to shore up accountability’
Kimberly Wehle is a professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
The Democrats had no choice but to pursue impeachment to properly condemn and hold leaders accountable for the horrors of January 6. It would have been much, much worse to walk away as if nothing happened. But there is now no question that the six references to impeachment in the Constitution—a whopping number that underscores how important the Framers considered this lever of accountability—are not going to produce real consequences absent a voting populace that demands fidelity to the rule of law from its lawmakers. For that, we need civic education and moral responsibility at all levels of our social order.
We also need new laws. What these two failed impeachments have shown is that Congress must immediately pass clarifying legislation to shore up accountability for the office of the presidency. Trump smashed a range of norms over the past four years, with complicity from Congress. America dodged a bullet to the heart of democracy on November 4, and again on January 6, but we are far from out of the woods. We are already seeing voter suppression efforts raging back across the country on the false myth that voter fraud justifies politicians passing laws to keep people from being able to exercise their constitutional right to vote. That is the sad legacy of Trump, and it’s the regular American—not the politicians in Washington—who will pay the price with the right to self-governance.
‘Impeachment has a chance of remaining rare and principled’
Mary Frances Berry is professor of American social thought, history and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
The two Donald Trump impeachments portray what appears to be a running battle between the congressional and executive branches. Unable to find ways to enact legislation to stop Trump’s policies, the House used its impeachment power to hobble the administration. Impeachment substituted for congressional action and helped to generate media coverage undermining Trump’s initiatives.
The second impeachment of Trump matters not just because we may be relieved of focusing on Trump. It also makes it unlikely that another president will be impeached after he has already left office and can no longer undermine government and policy, which the impeachment provisions served to prevent. Impeachment then has a chance of remaining rare and principled when it seems absolutely necessary to remove a president or other official from power, and not just another political exercise.
‘He exposed the fragility of the norms that undergird our political life.’
Geoffrey Kabaservice is the director of political studies at the Niskanen Center in Washington, DC as well as the author of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party.
Donald Trump’s second impeachment may, in the short term, seem to have had little practical effect, since no more than a handful of Senate Republicans voted to convict. Trump’s supporters predictably will dismiss the entire proceedings as a partisan circus and witch hunt. But the case that Trump did in fact incite and inflame the mob he had assembled, and that he bears principal responsibility for the desecration of American democracy that occurred on January 6, carries much greater moral and emotional resonance than any of his defenders’ excuses. Over time, the reputational stain of the second impeachment will deepen Trump’s exclusion from mainstream American politics. He will not be included in any of the symbolic or substantive or redemptive activities in which past ex-presidents (even Richard Nixon) participated. Growing numbers of Americans will view his entire presidency as a historical aberration.
That will be an excessively self-flattering verdict. Trump may not have known much about American history, but he authentically channeled many of the country’s darker impulses into his populism. These included not only McCarthyism’s conspiracy-minded hatred of elites as well as the isolationism and nativism of the America First Committee, but even reached back to the anti-government animus of the 18th-century Shays’ and Whiskey Rebellions. He exposed the fragility of the norms that undergird our political life (most derived from the worldview of long-dead gentlemanly elites) and the ricketiness of our obsolete constitutional-political structures. He also accelerated the decline of the country’s international power and prestige. The significance of Trump’s second impeachment ultimately will be determined by the future trajectory of the country, and whether we collectively choose the division and dysfunction that Trump personified or the pragmatism and progress that characterized much of what once was called the American Century.
‘This acquittal sends three dangerous messages to future presidents’
Catherine J. Ross is professor of law and Fred C. Stevenson research professor at the George Washington University Law School. She is also the author of the forthcoming A Right to Lie? Presidents, Other Liars, and the First Amendment, expected in 2021.
This acquittal sends at least three dangerous messages to future presidents. First, you can with impunity use every weapon in a relentless effort to overturn the results of a free and fair election. Some of these weapons are more legitimate, such as recounts and lawsuits, than others, such as pressuring state officials, ignoring 62 losses in court and seeking intervention by government officials. The acquittal also shows that a president can incite a violent, armed mob to overtake and ransack the Capitol in order to cut short the constitutionally mandated vote certification without accountability. And third, it is now almost impossible to imagine a presidential offense that would lead to conviction in the Senate.
The Supreme Court explained in Nixon v. Fitzgerald that congressional oversight backed by the “threat of impeachment” is the sole means the Constitution provides to “deter presidential abuses of office.” Because they had the aftermath of Watergate in mind—where Republican leaders prevailed on President Richard Nixon to resign—the justices, like the Founders, did not envision the hyper-partisanship that has undermined the impeachment process. For all practical purposes, the majority of Republican senators have vitiated the impeachment, conviction and removal mechanism, throwing our government of co-equal branches completely out of balance. Disabling the fail-safe remedy the Founders bequeathed to us puts the country at grave risk.
‘The exoneration of Trump will inevitably embolden those and their ilk who stormed the Capitol’
Alan I. Baron is former special impeachment counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Donald Trump was not convicted as a result of his unprecedented second impeachment, but neither was he exonerated. The shameless behavior of this grotesque narcissist is now an indelible part of our country’s history. That is no small achievement by the House impeachment managers who did a superb job presenting the facts.
A second outcome of these proceedings was for all to see, for all times, the craven abdication by Republican senators who voted “not guilty” when called upon to judge Trump’s role in the insurrection. For them to hide behind an absurd interpretation of the Constitution that a former president can’t be impeached, rejected by constitutional scholars, was a cynical repudiation of their oath. If Diogenes, holding his lamp, were to seek an honest person in that group, the oil would be consumed before he succeeded.
Finally, the exoneration of Trump will inevitably embolden those and their ilk who stormed the Capitol. They are the point of the spear. It remains to be seen whether American democracy gets the shaft.
‘The fact that these impeachments happened is vitally important’
Beth Myers is principal at Buckminster Strategies, a public affairs and campaign consulting firm. She served as chief of staff to former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, and as campaign manager and senior advisor of Romney’s presidential campaigns.
The first impeachment trial of Donald Trump was about corrupting an election; the second about the attempt to thwart the peaceful transfer of power after an election. The fact that these impeachments happened is vitally important: Alleged crimes by a president in violation of the most fundamental acts necessary for a functioning American democracy can never be ignored. Poet Amanda Gorman brought that home in her Inauguration Day 2021 poem: “History has its eyes on us.”
The Senate failed to convict in either trial—despite the overwhelming evidence presented by the House impeachment managers in the second trial. But the actions of Trump, the cases made by his accusers and defenders, and the votes taken under oath by the senators to convict or acquit, are now a record for consideration by future historians. And that matters very much.
‘Trump owns the GOP still’
Rick Wilson is a Republican political strategist, media consultant and author of Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever.
The impeachment of Donald J. Trump, Part 2, ended with exoneration by a craven Senate GOP. Trump owns the GOP still, and even the party members who think he’s never going to run again. A Senate staffer told me, “If this was a secret vote it would be 80-20,” and they were right. Does it matter to Trump or the GOP? Of course not.
It does matter to history. It shows that the country lacks a functioning political party that can stand up against a man who attempted to subvert an election through violence. It’s a sad coda for a grim era.
‘Every senator who voted to acquit will be stained in history’
Norman Ornstein is an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Ten House Republicans, including a party leader, voted to impeach, and this impeachment trial will be the most bipartisan in American history. It is a hugely important step, even with acquittal. This impeachment and trial highlight the grossest and gravest abuse of power by a president in all of American history. And the process, with the House managers methodically and powerfully laying out the long history of Donald Trump lying about the election, exulting in violence, inciting Proud Boys and others, targeting his own vice president and trying to subvert the outcome of a free and fair election, will be a part of history. These examples were there for tens of millions of Americans to see what happened, and to realize we came within an eyelash of a violent coup that could easily have resulted in the assassination of our top national political leaders.
Trump is stained in history, even if acquitted. And every senator who votes to acquit will also be stained in history. And other vehicles, including applying the 14th Amendment to disqualify Trump from future office and censure, remain. As do criminal charges. The failure to move forward with this process would have been dereliction of duty by Congress.
You Need to Take the Religious Left Seriously This Time
What I know about trauma is that when you’re in the middle of a trauma, it’s much more difficult to process it than it is once even a modicum of safety has been established. I anticipate that as the pressure of the pandemic begins to lessen, the reality of the trauma that we’ve been through [will sink in]. We have some pretty hard days ahead of us as the fact of what’s happened begins to come out of us and come into the public. You think that it can’t get much worse than it has been, but in fact, some of the hardest days with respect to conflict and pain are ahead of us, as we get the space to grieve and mourn and feel the rage of what we’ve been through.
You referenced coming to terms with your grandparents’ participation in a lynching. I can imagine that would be a horrifying, gut-churning revelation — one most people would not be inclined to talk about if they discovered. How did you unearth that bit family history, and why did you decide to go public with it?
In my case, it came quite unexpectedly: I came upon a postcard of a lynching of a young woman named Laura Nelson that happened in 1911 in Okemah, Oklahoma — a small town where my family basically comprised half the population. [In the photograph,] many of the people in town were standing on the bridge off of which Laura and her son were lynched.
I was horrified. And I don’t have any direct evidence of who in my family was involved, but it’s impossible to imagine that they weren’t. I grew up knowing that my grandfather was quite a racist. He didn’t try to hide it. And I also know that Woody Guthrie, who grew up next door to my grandfather, has written about this particular lynching extensively, and even wrote a song about his father’s role in leading the lynching mob.
I decided to go public with it because when it comes to looking at white supremacy and the legacy of chattel slavery and Jim Crow, it’s something that far too many white people project into the far past [instead of] part of the reality that you are still living in. That shift is not going to happen until people realize how close — and still in the middle of those legacies — we still are. Until more white people start telling these stories and unearthing them, it’s going to continue to be repressed.
I’m wondering how you reconcile the love that you perhaps feel for your family members with the reality of their participation in a lynching.
That’s a very hard question. In my case, the grandfather who would have been most directly connected to it, there was no love lost between us.
Being tied to those legacies of terror does have a corrupting effect on people’s souls. Even if it’s hidden or never spoken of, it’s not something that you can ever forget with regard to who you conceive yourself to be and the evil that you’ve done.
That said, this is where my faith comes in. I believe that human beings in general are a mixture of the glorious things they’re capable of and the horrible things that they’re capable of. None of us can claim to be pure. And the more honest one can be about one’s brokenness and the sins one has been responsible for, the more freedom one finds from that. I never have a pure understanding of who anybody is — most especially myself, but definitely my family.
In the U.S., the history that we — particularly white people — have told ourselves about our past has been much too pure for it to be real. Reckoning with its horrors is only going to make it more real. And history, as it becomes real, shows us the path to healing.
On the topic of history, I’ve heard you say that you see a massive cultural shift underway around the globe, and have likened it to what happened 500 years ago during the Reformation. First, what specifically do you see? And second, the Reformation happened in part because of the advent of Gutenberg’s printing press, and was followed by decades and decades of religious wars throughout Europe. Do you think that what we’re seeing now is a result of the advent of the Internet — the printing press of our era — and if so, should we expect a few hundred years of religious wars in our future?
When the Reformation happened, we had new technology — the printing press allowed anyone who knew how to read to pick up a book and read. We had the emergence of the nation-state, new political alignments. We had the emergence of nascent capitalism, so we had a shift of economics. You could just go on and on.
These types of seismic shifts in how the world is ordered are manifest in profound spiritual shifts. When the world gets reordered, your imagination with respect to the reality of the divine, transcendent and who you are gets recomposed. That’s happening now: The old orders are breaking down, and our imaginations are being forced to think of the transcendent in new ways and to tell new stories about who we are.
Neera Tanden Got Twitter Right—And That Was her Problem
But Twitter has its own way of tempting you into provocative tweets, and then turning on you—especially when you make enough enemies from different points on the political spectrum, and they find a common moment for revenge.
A onetime Boston political boss named Martin Lomasney, who wielded power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had an oft-repeated rule for politicians: “Never write if you can speak, never speak if you can nod, never nod if you can wink.” Lomasney would surely have run in the other direction from Twitter, which isn’t just public but permanent. Yes, Donald Trump played the platform like a virtuoso; other politicians have used it savvily to bypass gatekeepers and build a base of loyalists. But for a political player, every tweet is fraught with peril: Even if you aren’t overtly insulting someone, there’s a chance some statement from your past will contradict a current political stance, or apply with poetic justice to a compromising situation.
Still, political types are also human beings, and the temptation to pour every thought onto Twitter, in search of a reaction, is ultimately biological. When you put out a tweet, anticipating a “like” or a “share,” your brain gets a hit of a pleasure neurochemical, says psychiatrist David Greenfield, founder and medical director of the Connecticut-based Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. At the same time, he says, the brain cuts off its pathways to the frontal cortex, the area that governs judgment. Once, this shutdown of higher-level thinking was a convenient evolutionary tool, Greenfield says: Prehistoric hunter-gatherers needed to shut out reason to serve the higher directives of mating and eating. Today, though, it has given us an internet that functions like “the world’s largest slot machine,” he says, as users embark on an endless hunt for validation. Tanden’s nakedly partisan tweets could derive her plenty of pleasure; one tweet during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—“Susan Collins’ terrible treatment of Dr. Ford should haunt Collins for the rest of her days”—drew 3,097 retweets and 8,295 likes.
In the age of the ideological bubble, political tweets pose a specific kind of risk. If you’re sharing like-minded partisan thoughts with like-minded people, you’re likely to forget that you risk a negative reaction, says Whitney Phillips, a communications professor at Syracuse University and co-author of the upcoming book You Are Here: A Field Guide For Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape. “You speak in a code that’s appropriate for the audience,” Phillips says. But once your statement lands in front of a less-friendly group, your intentions don’t matter. “It’s impossible to control any of our messages,” she says. “You can only focus on the consequences.”
Phillips cites an internet axiom known as “Poe’s Law”—coined in the early 2000s, on a message board for creationists, when a user who called himself Nathan Poe declared that it was hard to discern the true believers from people who were being sarcastic. On the internet, Poe’s Law holds, you can’t know anybody’s true intentions. A commenter could be sincere or mocking, a real human being or a fake account. Anger could be deeply-felt or cynically overblown. And it’s easy to weaponize the outrage machine. It was a right-wing provocateur—hoping to reveal what he saw as Hollywood hypocrisy—who unearthed incendiary old jokes about rape and pedophilia from “Guardians of the Galaxy” filmmaker James Gunn’s Twitter feed in 2018, Phillips notes. But it was left-wing outrage over those tweets that ultimately got Gunn fired.
Tanden’s tweets, it’s fair to say, weren’t as troublesome as Gunn’s. She was largely pumping out standard-issue political snark, the kind Trump used to post from the White House on nearly an hourly basis. Still, there are rules of political conduct, and—if you’re not Trump—consequences for breaking them. In 2008, Samantha Power, then an advisor to presidential candidate Barack Obama, resigned from the campaign after telling a Scottish reporter that Hillary Clinton was a “monster.” Power had violated a norm: voicing the kind of insult that’s usually shared, Lomasney-style, outside the public view. (Post-election, her career recovered quickly.) And, like Gunn, Tanden succeeded in getting both groups—those on the left and the right—on her bad side. If everything you tweet can be used as ammunition in the future, it’s particularly lethal when it’s coming at you from all sides.
Tanden clearly realized that old tweets could cause her trouble in this new career moment, when she had to emerge from her Clinton-Biden bubble and confront her onetime targets in the flesh. Soon after Biden named her to the budget post, she deleted at least 1,000 tweets. But the internet never forgets. And, in keeping with Poe’s Rule, it has been hard to tell who on Capitol Hill is truly horrified, and who merely senses a political opportunity. At her confirmation hearing before the Budget Committee, Sanders chided Tanden for her “vicious attacks made against progressives. People who I have worked with. Me personally.” But he also has a longer-standing beef with Tanden over the 2016 election and her ideological agenda. And he seems not the type to wither in front of an insult.
Tanden did her duty and apologized profusely, hinting that she wanted to distance herself from the cesspool Twitter had become. But the truth is, she was following the rules of her chosen medium all along. There’s no point in tweeting if you aren’t saying something that can rile people up. “Our networks have been designed for this exact outcome,” Phillips says. “The most rancorous stuff becomes the stuff that is most visible, that has the most purchase.”
In other words, the internet did everything in its power to make Tanden act the way she did, rewarded her with nearly 377,000 followers, then punished her in the end. And yet, with every tweet, she had free will. Greenfield counsels his patients who want to change their internet habits to never actually type out a tweet in the “compose” box, in Twitter or any other social media platform. Rather, he says, type your message in the Notes app, think about it for a minute, and cut and paste when you’re good and ready. Martin Lomasney would have considered that decent advice.
The GOP’s choice in 2024: Trump Ultra, Trump Lite or Trump Zero
“There isn’t a Trump lane. There’s a Trump Turnpike with multiple lanes and multiple people,” said Chris LaCivita, a veteran GOP strategist who most recently headed the anti-Biden super PAC Preserve America.
Conversations with more than a dozen Republican consultants, strategists and officials depict a party over which Trump exerts an irresistible gravitational pull, pointing to his continued strength in polls and the megawatt energy he generates among the GOP grassroots.
Trump’s grip on the Republican base and his effect on the minds of White House hopefuls is so total, they say, that the path to the GOP nomination is best defined by the degree of loyalty to Trump — to the point where party operatives reach for elaborate metaphors to best convey the extent of his influence.
“Trump remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room, he just happens to be sitting in the corner right now,” former Michigan state chair Saul Anuzis said, joking that the social media de-platforming of the former president is “more like an electronic dog fence. … You can definitely still hear the bark.”
Already, potential prospects and party leaders are making pilgrimages to Trump’s Palm Beach club for an audience with the former president. It’s a reflection, top Republicans say, of a nomination contest that will break down along fault lines that trace back to Trump.
“The winner of our primary [in 2024] will be someone from the Full Trump lane who embraces Trump and is embraced by him,” said Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a confidant of the former president who met with him last week at Mar-a-Lago and has taken on the role of party enforcer.
Gaetz, who’s also scheduled to speak at CPAC, said few will challenge Trump if he decides to run again. And he predicted that candidates who fail to embrace Trump’s legacy in full will only have a “mirage” of support “because their base is essentially Washington-based media who give them more appearances on the Sunday shows than their percentage point support in polling of Republican voters.”
On the eve of CPAC, here is a breakdown of the 2024 GOP presidential lanes that are taking shape.
There’s a saying by some in Trump’s orbit that “if you’re with him 99 percent of the time, you’re a damn traitor” — a testament to the absolute, unwavering loyalty he demands. Those purity and loyalty tests make the Trump Ultra lane one of the toughest to run in.
A key metric for senators and representatives who expect to occupy this lane: opposition to the Jan. 6 certification of the Electoral College results that officially made him the loser and that led to the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. That puts Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Florida Sen. Rick Scott — all CPAC speakers — squarely in the Trump Ultra camp.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose stock is rising rapidly in the national party, will open the conference with welcoming remarks. He sports sterling MAGA credential for his Trumpist handling of Covid and status as governor of Trump’s newly adopted home state — which the former president won twice. To this day, DeSantis refuses to publicly acknowledge that President Joe Biden was legitimately elected.
DeSantis isn’t the only governor in this category: South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, another CPAC speaker, is a dark horse candidate. Noem, who is holding a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago on March 5, is a Fox News regular who once gave Trump a miniature Mt. Rushmore featuring his own face.
Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state known within the previous administration for his unwillingness to criticize Trump even in private, is also in this crowded group and is scheduled to speak at CPAC.
The Trump Lite lane is populated by candidates who have put any daylight — however little — between themselves and the former president.
In the case of former Vice President Mike Pence, who was unceasingly loyal to Trump for more than four years, it was his refusal to reject the Electoral College certification when he presided over the vote. That apostasy costs him among many Trump supporters. He declined an invitation to speak at CPAC.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a leading voice in criticizing China — one of Trump’s signature issues — is in the same situation after voting to accept the Electoral College results. So is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Although Rubio carved out a niche for himself as a consistent anti-anti-Trump Republican who frequently attacks the former president’s critics, he committed the sin of mildly criticizing Trump after his two impeachments and blasted him as a primary rival in 2016. Both are scheduled to speak at CPAC.
Trump’s former United Nations ambassador, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, recently stepped out of the full Trump lane by making critical comments about her onetime boss and was promptly snubbed by the former president when she requested an audience with him at Mar-a-Lago.
In an interview prior to Haley’s criticisms of Trump, South Carolina GOP strategist Wesley Donehue predicted she would win her home state but noted that support of the former president is of utmost importance, according to a poll of Republican primary voters he took in the state in early February.
“About 75 percent of Republican primary voters said supporting Donald Trump is a requirement for office. Again: a requirement. It’s absolutely astonishing,” Donehue said. “So she was seen in this state as being 100 percent with Donald Trump, but now over the last two weeks, we’re starting to hear a lot of rumblings. People still love Nikki Haley here, but she’s got to figure out a way to deal with this. I don’t know how she does, though. Because Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be someone with a short memory.”
Haley’s standing in her home state’s primary looms large because the lanes the candidates will run in have both an ideological and geographical dimension. Since South Carolina is traditionally the third state to vote in a primary — and the first to go in the South — it exerts an extra gravitational pull.
In New Hampshire, sandwiched between the Iowa and South Carolina contests, Republican strategist Jim Merrill said that Trump Lite could be “potentially the broadest lane … a hybrid that is able to point out Trump’s shortcomings while also working to build on his gains with working class Americans.”
Jeff Roe, who advised Cruz on his 2016 presidential bid, has polled Republican primary voters extensively in recent years on what type of candidate they would support. He’s determined that the party has three distinctive lanes: a Full Trump lane, a Most Conservative lane (composed of fiscal and social conservatives) and a Most Electable lane that reflects a preference for whomever can beat the Democrats.
“If you don’t pick a lane, you will get run over,” Roe said. “Candidates who try to hold a mirror up to the electorate and say, ‘Look at me, I’m just like you,’ instead of saying, ‘This is who I am, vote for me,’ will lose. Voters want authenticity. They want leaders.”
That focus on electability is at the heart of the Trump Zero lane. It is essentially the vehicle of the anti-Trump wing, the province of those who have called out the president frequently for his rhetoric and post-election behavior, yet can single out some positive aspects of Trump’s four-year reign.
The problem is the lane might be so small that it’s not much of a path at all, said David Kochel, a longtime GOP strategist from first-in-the-nation Iowa who counts Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse among this group.
“It’s probably not even a lane,” Kochel said. “It’s more like a gravelly shoulder on the side of the mountain that’s about to crumble into the ocean.”
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