Democratic impeachment managers warned the Senate Thursday that convicting Donald Trump isn’t just about blocking him from the White House ― it’s also about the prospect of him running and losing again.
Trump has already shown he’s more than willing to lie about voter fraud and a stolen election, the Democrats said during his second impeachment trial. His supporters have shown a willingness to commit violence in his name, and even in his statement supposedly condemning the attack on the Capitol, Trump told the perpetrators he loved them.
“I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said. “I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”
Trump has indicated that he doesn’t intend to leave politics. He still hasn’t recanted his claim that he should have won the 2020 election, and when he left Washington on Inauguration Day, he said he would be “back in some form.”
As far as voters go, even after the insurrection, 40% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said Trump should run for president again in 2024.
Most Republican senators are inclined to let him off the hook for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, insisting that the impeachment trial is happening too late because he’s no longer president. And without a conviction, Trump will be eligible to run again and easily incite violence again.
“Impeachment is not to punish but to prevent,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said Thursday. “We’re not here to punish Donald Trump; we’re here to prevent the seeds of hatred from bearing any more fruit.”
Democrats did not base their case solely on the siege of the Capitol, which Trump incited by sowing doubt in the election result for months and then urging his supporters to “fight like hell” as lawmakers prepared to certify that result. They also pointed to examples of Trump encouraging his supporters to get physical as far back as his first presidential campaign.
In 2016, he told a crowd to “knock the crap out of” protesters, adding that he would “pay for the legal fees, I promise.”
In 2017, in reference to a white nationalist rally that left one counter-demonstrator dead, he said there were “very fine people on both sides.”
In 2018, Trump praised now-Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) for body-slamming a reporter, saying, “Any guy that can do a body slam — he’s my kind of guy.”
In 2019, Trump made a joke out of the suggestion from one of his rallygoers that the best way to stop immigrants from crossing the border was to shoot them, laughing and smiling at the proposal and saying that, “Only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.”
In May 2020, Trump retweeted a video of a Republican county commissioner in New Mexico saying “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”
Just days before the election last year, a caravan of Trump supporters tried to run a bus for now-President Joe Biden’s campaign off the road in Texas. Trump approvingly retweeted a video of the stunt and jokingly told a rally that his supporters were “protecting” the Biden bus, “because they’re nice.”
As one of the Democratic impeachment managers, Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.), said Wednesday, Trump retweeted a video of the confrontation, attaching the words “I LOVE TEXAS.”
“He fanned the flame of violence,” Plaskett said. “And it worked.”
But perhaps the clearest precursor to the violence at the U.S. Capitol was the siege of the Michigan state Capitol and the foiled plot to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over coronavirus restrictions the state had imposed on businesses.
President Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” in April, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) noted Thursday, and within two weeks, armed militiamen marched on the state Capitol.
“They stormed the building,” Raskin said. “Trump’s marching orders were followed by aggressive action on the ground.”
“The siege at the Michigan state house was effectively a state-level dress rehearsal for the seizure of the U.S. Capitol that Trump incited on January 6. Rep. Jamie Raskin
Democrats then showed video of the men shouting at Michigan police and calling for Whitmer to be locked up. At least one man who screamed at police in Michigan later stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Trump continued to blast Whitmer in his public statements. The militiamen stormed the state Capitol again. In October, the FBI arrested 13 men for plotting to kidnap her and launch a civil war.
“The siege at the Michigan state house was effectively a state-level dress rehearsal for the seizure of the U.S. Capitol that Trump incited on January 6,” Raskin said. “It was a preview of the coming insurrection.”
Trump’s impeachment defense attorneys, for their part, suggested that convicting Trump is what would incite violence. Trump lawyer David Schoen said Tuesday that Democrats knew “the so-called trial will tear the country in half, leaving tens of millions of Americans feeling left out of the nation’s agenda, as dictated by one political party that now holds the power in the White House and in our national legislature.”
“This trial will tear this country apart, perhaps like we’ve only seen once before in our history,” Schoen said.
Democrats instead pointed out that law enforcement experts expect the attack on the Capitol itself to be a beacon for violence for years.
“Unless we take action, the violence is only just beginning,” DeGette said.