It appears the die is cast.
Barring a political miracle, Donald Trump can be expected to celebrate an abominable acquittal in the U.S. Senate sometime next month. Democrats will make a compelling case for convicting Trump in the impeachment trial over his failed coup. Then, fewer than 17 Republicans will muster the courage to join them. Trump and his minions will falsely claim exoneration and that will be that.
Like it or not, this outcome is virtually assured if the Senate proceeds as planned February 8 to place Trump on trial. The votes aren't there. The nation saw the same bad movie play out on the same Senate stage less than a year ago.
It doesn't have to be this way. Senate Democrats possess a far-more strategic path to bringing Trump to justice: Just be patient. There's no fire, no pressing deadline. Trump no longer possesses any codes more deadly than the ones to his golf clubhouse. The issue isn't whether Trump should be held accountable -- of course he must -- but rather a question of when.
The Democrats could do themselves and the nation a favor by indefinitely postponing the Trump trial until whatever strikes them as the optimal time to proceed. That might be two weeks later. It might be at the end of President Joe Biden's first hundred days. It might be in August or next winter.
It doesn't matter how long they wait. Uncertainty over the timing of a trial would be more frightful than the outcome for the Republicans. They are the ones with a sense of urgency about the need to put all things Trump in their rearview mirrors. His trial looms over them as a Sword of Damocles.
The Republican Party is torn by civil war. The Arizona branch just censured its own sitting governor -- Doug Ducey -- along with former Senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, two of its best-known national figures. Outbreaks of internal GOP strife persist across the nation. No fewer than 18 of the 50 Republican senators face reelection in 2022 (two are retiring). Many would fear for their actual lives--not just their political ones--if they could be blamed for ending Trump's career.
Napoleon's famous line comes to mind: "Never interrupt your enemy when's he making a mistake." Democrats would give a gift to scuffling Republicans by allowing them to coalesce behind whatever partisan political arguments can be made on behalf of Trump just a few weeks removed from office.
The Biden Administration would benefit handsomely from having its launch unimpeded by political sideshows, and especially the mainstage mega-production of an impeachment trial. Were there urgency to removing Trump or banning him from future office, a case might be made to override that concern. There isn't.
Substantively, a delay can only benefit the prosecution side of a Trump
trial. Although the rules of a criminal trial don't technically apply, Trump attorneys and Republican senators can be expected to hammer away at the argument that Trump's rally demagoguery did not cross the line between freedom of speech and incitement to riot. Even if that's not a good argument, it's an argument.
It would advantage the impeachment managers to have as much time as possible to piece together a timeline--buttressed by electronic evidence and witness testimony--that connects Trump's two-month campaign of lies and seditious commentary as specifically as possible to the organizers of the Capitol riots (and not just the pathetic cartoon characters arrested at the scene of the crime). This was a concerted campaign of sedition, not a speech gone awry, and it needs to be laid out meticulously as such.
There's also the important prospect that more evidence against Trump will emerge organically. In the past week alone, there were two separate bombshell revelations that he had plotted to corrupt the Justice Department even more than before in the hope of using it to perpetrate a coup. Every news story like that makes the Republican defense more challenging politically if not substantively.
It is not just possible--but likely--that skeletons abound in Trump's closet with respect to his incessant efforts to countermand American democracy. Time is on the side of those tasked with assembling the case against Trump. Why not give them as much of it as possible?
Finally, there's the matter of keeping Trump from ever seeking office again, a notion that certainly is justified and important to American democracy. Again, however, the politics of this are not as clear as they might seem at first blush. Even if one assumes that it's essential to ban Trump, it's an element of the process that provides Republicans their best fig leaf in the short run for refusing to convict him: They can argue it's a decision to be left to future voters.
The more horrific details emerge from Trump's criminal conduct in the White House, the harder it is for Republicans to cling to any such defense. And if things get any worse for Trump, a political threshold might be reached -- if it hasn't already -- beyond which a doomed candidacy of the disgraced madman presents more of a menace to his party than the nation. He seems less of a threat to the Democrats every day.
Once again, all roads point to a strategy of patience for the Senate Democrats. Were the roles reversed, a cold and calculating approach of this nature would be top of mind for Mitch McConnell. But the words of Will Rogers ring ominously as ever: "I'm not a member of an organized political party. I'm a Democrat."
This would be a nice time for Democrats to fight like Republicans for once, rather than play into their hands by pushing too quickly with a second failed impeachment trial. But don't hold your breath: McConnell seems to have adopted a rope-a-dope strategy, daring Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to give him his best shot now, and the bait is about to be taken.
The needless pressure from within his own party--and from news media inherently impatient to see a story advanced-- will almost certainly be too much for Schumer and other Democrats to resist. Should they succumb, history will await with an uneasy question:
What was the rush?