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“Who’s to say it won’t happen again?”: Democrats warn of the risks of acquittal

Moderate Republicans are betting Trump has no political future. Democrats argue that’s the problem.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) arrives at the US Capitol on the third day of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on February 11.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Closing their second day of arguments in former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, House Democrats warned of the real danger of acquittal.

Asking senators to weigh the threat of letting Trump’s incitement of an insurrection go unpunished, House impeachment managers detailed his history of stoking violence and the ongoing threat of domestic terrorism that his actions have encouraged. Their intent: making it clear that January 6 was an extension of a pattern — rather than an aberration — and could be repeated if consequences are not imposed.

“Senators, the evidence is clear,” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) said in his closing statement. “We showed you statements, videos, affidavits that prove President Trump incited an insurrection — an insurrection that he alone had the power to stop.”

“We humbly, humbly ask you to convict President Trump for the crime for which he is overwhelmingly guilty,” Neguse continued. “Because if you don’t, if we pretend this didn’t happen — worse, if we let it go unanswered — who’s to say it won’t happen again?”

Some Republicans, including Trump’s defense lawyer Bruce Castor and Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), have suggested Democrats are only pursuing impeachment because they are worried about Trump running for president in 2024 and winning, as he did in 2016.

But Democrats responded directly to that line of thinking, arguing another Trump loss, rather than a victory, would be riskier for American democracy.

“President Trump’s lack of remorse shows that he will undoubtedly cause future harm if allowed, because he still refuses to account for his previous high, grave crime against our government,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said. “I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose — because he can do this again.”

The question of what Trump will do next is not just a Democratic concern. It’s splitting the GOP. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell formally broke from Trump after the insurrection, laying the blame directly at Trump’s feet for promoting election conspiracies. McConnell will not whip the impeachment vote, and his own vote is reportedly undecided, though he voted with the majority of his caucus that the trial was unconstitutional.

Some Republican lawmakers continue to repeat the former president’s ongoing assertions of election fraud. Those unsubstantiated claims play well with parts of the electorate and are becoming a mandate for state-level Republican attempts to enact their largest voter suppression campaign in years — both of which could help keep these senators in office.

Others in the Senate GOP are betting, as Democrats outlined, that he will run again and lose. The difference is that, despite the two days of evidence Democrats presented, they do not seem to share the same fears that he could incite violence yet again, or are too afraid of offending the former president’s base to say so.

On Tuesday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), one of the caucus’s more moderate members and one of six Republicans to vote that the trial was constitutional, said the evidence was damning. But she came to a conclusion that House Democrats are arguing misses the real danger.

“After the American public sees the full story laid out here ... I don’t see how Donald Trump could be reelected to the president again,” she told reporters, according to the Hill.

Democrats argue the risk lies in his continued false claims about election fraud and are asking senators to use their power to ensure he cannot run again rather than just hoping his continued political viability does not lead to another, potentially more deadly, episode of political violence.

“My dear colleagues, is there any political leader in this room who believes if he’s ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” Raskin said. “Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that? President Trump declared his conduct totally appropriate. So if he gets back into office and it happens again, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.”

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