If Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell truly meant what he said after voting to acquit former President Donald Trump, then the Republican leader in Congress should feel obligated to make sure Trump can never serve as president again.
In scathing post-trial remarks Saturday, McConnell said that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” that led to the insurrection at the Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6. McConnell implied that he would have voted to convict his fellow Republican if Trump were still in office.
If that is the case, Trump’s acquittal, though expected given the political makeup of the Senate, should not be the final word on the matter. Nor is a proposed commission to look further into the riot at the Capitol sufficient.
The only remedy that would suffice is to legally bar Trump from trying to make a comeback in 2024, as he reportedly is contemplating.
The impeachment process was only one avenue for accomplishing this, and it was always the most unlikely. That’s because a conviction on an impeachment charge — even one as serious as inciting an insurrection — requires a two-thirds vote, which is almost an impossibility in a political trial. That seven Republicans sided with 50 Democrats to vote in favor of conviction was itself remarkable. What’s noteworthy here is not that the effort came up 10 votes short, but that the prosecution attracted the most support from a president’s own party in our nation’s history.
There is another avenue to take to ensure that, in the interest of our democratic traditions and institutions, Trump remains a private citizen for the rest of his life. As was pointed out before the trial began, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment could be invoked against the former president. That post-Civil War addition to the Constitution says that any public official who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the Constitution shall be disqualified from holding office again. To apply this prohibition to Trump would only require a simple majority in both houses of Congress, and it would take a two-thirds majority to overturn the decision in the future.
McConnell suggested in his post-trial dressing-down of his former ally that Trump could still be held accountable in civil litigation initiated by those who were injured in the riot or by the survivors of those who were killed.
Maybe so, but that’s punting the responsibility.
The uprising that Trump instigated was a direct attack on Congress. He ginned up his supporters for weeks with false claims that he had been cheated out of reelection, summoned them to Washington on the day the Senate was to confirm Joe Biden’s victory, and turned them loose in what predictably became the most frightening domestic assault in history on the legislative branch of government.
Congress, and especially congressional Republicans, are obligated to fix this. They didn’t have the votes to convict Trump last week, but they do have the votes to join with Democrats and invoke the 14th Amendment. McConnell and those who rely on his guidance need to summon the courage to do so.