Lessons for Conservatives From the Trump Impeachment

February 14, 2021 Updated: February 25, 2021


As I write, the Senate has just acquitted former President Donald Trump. The incident offers some lessons for conservatives. These lessons are presented in no particular order. All are important.

The final vote, like the entire impeachment process, demonstrated the degraded state of Congress. For example, 55 senators voted that they had jurisdiction over the case. But it’s clear that they didn’t really weigh jurisdiction and the merits separately. That’s because all 55 voted to convict. It seems the vote for jurisdiction was driven purely by the desire to nail Trump.

Two senators who voted against jurisdiction nevertheless voted for conviction. Consider that for a moment: They conceded the process was illegitimate—but they still wanted to use it: “Yes, I know this is a kangaroo court, but I’m going to let it lynch you anyway.”

Seven Republicans voted to convict. They will be hearing from the grassroots. How will Mitt Romney survive the Utah GOP primary in 2024? The answer is, he probably won’t.

The most recent insurrection wasn’t at the U.S. Capitol. (The Capitol incursion was more like a riot.) As Andy Ngo’s new book, “Unmasked,” documents, it is/was the insurrection waged by Antifa–Black Lives Matter (BLM). It’s shocking to learn that some leading Democrats abetted, or at least tolerated, that insurrection.

On Friday, Trump lawyer David Schoen redeemed the defense team’s poor initial performance by showing a devastating series of videos. They depicted top Democrats, including many in the Senate, doing almost exactly what they accused Trump of doing. One video showed horrifying scenes from last year’s Antifa–BLM riots, juxtaposed with leading Democrats cheering the rioters on.

It’s hard to avoid concluding that many leading Democrats are fundamentally hostile to America’s constitutional system. This is both a very great danger for America and a great political opportunity for Republicans. The Republican opportunity is not just national, but also exists in otherwise left-leaning states suffering from the Antifa–BLM activities, particularly Washington and Oregon.

I taught for many years in colleges and universities, so I’m intimately familiar with academic hostility toward our constitutional system. To a disproportionate degree, elected Democrats come to politics directly out of academia. Two of many examples are figures who played leading roles in the impeachment: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) entered elective office (the New York State legislature) almost immediately after graduating from law school. Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) spent nearly his entire professional career as a law professor in Washington, D.C. Such people have been totally immersed in “progressive” puerilities, but have had comparatively little exposure to the mainstream of American life.

While nearly all leading Democrats buy into the left’s intersectionality, the Republican Party is today’s “big tent.” Its leaders range from paleoconservatives to those who, by traditional measures, are moderate liberals. Legislative voting tabulations support this conclusion. When you correct for the bias of those issuing the tabulations, the evidence is even more decisive.

Donald Trump generates great loyalty. But a lesson from his short and turbulent presidency is that Republicans need to nominate presidential candidates with more political experience. The presidency is no place to learn on the job. Of course, Republican primary voters must distinguish between politically experienced candidates who will remain steadfast and those who will sell out to “the Swamp.” The GOP should nominate more Reagans, fewer McCains.

Here’s a crucial fact that Trump (like many other Republicans) never understood: It’s not enough for a Republican president and Congress to repeal regulations or limit government’s growth. If the programs that feed the left aren’t abolished, they grow back quickly. (Think of how fast Joe Biden has reversed the Trump legacy.) When Republicans come into office, they must abolish bad programs, not merely reform or trim them—despite screams from Democrats, lobbyists, and the media. When taxpayer-funded programs go away, so does the social damage they cause. And so do the taxpayer funds that are the left’s lifeblood. I have a lot of suggestions for elimination, but a good place to start would be the federal programs that fund leftist academia.

Failure to grasp another fact landed Trump in trouble again and again. The fact is this: Expected standards of conduct are higher for conservatives than for liberals. Leading Democrats who have been promoting insurrection have gotten off scot-free; Trump was impeached for far less. I know this is horribly unfair. I know a major reason is media and bureaucratic bias. But an adept politician works with conditions as they are, not as he’d like them to be. Any Republican candidate or officeholder should weigh, and re-weigh, everything he says and does before he says or does it. As a long-time conservative Republican leader and as a candidate for governor, I learned this the hard way.

It’s always risky to count Trump out, but three factors work against a big come-back. First, many Republican activists will not want the negative baggage he carries. Second, Trump is 74, and his unlimited energy will not last forever. Third, and most importantly, there will be plenty of skilled candidates willing to take his place. To cite two: Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rose in Republican esteem through their support for election integrity and opposition to impeachment. The Republican Party will produce other potential candidates as well.

Finally, and most importantly: As I’ve noted before, the corruption of national politics highlights the need to save our country through carefully conceived action at the state legislative level—through election reform, allocation of presidential electors to contain big-city corruption, and the calling of a convention of states to propose corrective constitutional amendments.

Robert G. Natelson is a former constitutional law professor who has been in and around politics since 1964. He has successfully managed or led several political campaigns, and also has extensive private sector experience. He is a senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute in Denver and author of “The Original Constitution: What It Actually Said and Meant.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.