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Republicans seem ready to turn page on Trump after voting to acquit him

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Only seven of the 50 Republican senators voted to convict former President Donald Trump at the end of his impeachment trial. (file photo)

Senate Republicans are warning that they no longer view Donald Trump as the future of the GOP, after they voted to acquit the former president for an unprecedented second time in a little more than a year.

Only seven Republicans in the Senate voted with Democrats to convict Trump on a charge of inciting an insurrection. The final vote on Saturday was 57 to 43, 10 votes short of the two-third majority needed to secure a conviction.

Most Republicans followed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s example, claiming that to put a former president on trial was unconstitutional.

However, even those senators who voted to acquit Trump now acknowledge that the former president could not be the future of the Republican Party, and seem ready to turn the page after a chaotic four years.  

After the trial was concluded, Senator McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, rose to speak. He told his colleagues that Trump should not feel vindicated because he was acquitted.

“Former President Trump's actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty," McConnell said on the floor Saturday, referring to the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol.

“Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That is an absurd deflection,” he added. “Seventy-four million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Hundreds of rioters did. Seventy-four million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did. Just one.”

McConnell's words underscored the challenge that the GOP faces going forward. The party is torn between two competing interests-- whether to stand by Trump and court his base of supporters or break away from the former president and erase his legacy from the party.

Other Republican senators tried to get the message across that their voting to acquit Trump should not be construed as an all-out embrace of the former president and his bombastic tendencies.

“He's made it pretty difficult to gain support. As you can tell there's some support that will never go away, but I think that is a shrinking population and probably shrinks a little bit after this week,” said Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, who has aligned himself closely with Trump since being elected in 2018.

Senator Mike Braun of Indiana, who also voted for acquittal, said Republicans should now focus on how to rebuild the party regardless of what steps Trump might take in the future.

“I think whatever the president intends to do in the future would take a lot of soul searching. ...I am more concerned about how we rebuild the party in a way that brings in more people to it,” Braun noted.

The Democratic House impeachment managers may not have been able to convince enough Senate Republicans to deliver a guilty verdict on Trump, but their attempt at doing so – showing disturbing footage of members fleeing for safety as Trump supporters ransacked their offices—has left them badly shaken.

The impeachment, in the eyes of many Democrats, was intended as much to secure a conviction as it was to win the public battle over Trump’s conduct. Trump’s acquittal means he is not formally barred from holding office again. However, some Republicans attempted to put the matter to rest by withdrawing their support for the former president.

“I think he is probably not likely to ever be President of the United States again based on what is going on right here right now," said Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican who voted to acquit Trump.

“I think the impeachment process has been damaging because people have seen repeated images of how awful that night was and how inappropriate his response was. While it does not meet the standard in my view of inciting insurrection, it will have had that damaging effect.”

The shift in tone from Senate Republicans underscores how Trump's conduct, especially in the final weeks of his tumultuous presidency, has deeply fractured the party.

However, Trump and his legal team are making it clear that they view the acquittal as a vindication that could pave the way for the former president to stage a comeback. 

“This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country. Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump said in a statement after being acquitted.

Trump has been the center of gravity for the GOP for four years. But since he rose to power in 2017, Republicans have lost the House, the Senate and the White House. They finally seem ready to move on. 

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