The impeachment managers walking from the House to the Senate yesterday. Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times
A change in the polling
During the long debate over Donald Trump’s first impeachment, the share of Americans who favored removing him from office never rose above 50 percent. It hovered in a tight range around 47 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average.
Trump’s second impeachment is different: Most Americans believe the Senate should convict Trump and disqualify him from holding office again, according to multiple polls.
In a CBS News poll released yesterday, 56 percent of respondents said they supported conviction. In an ABC/Ipsos poll, 56 percent said he should be convicted and barred from office. Gallup found people favoring conviction by a margin of 52 percent to 45 percent — which is close to the average of all recent polls.
In our deeply polarized country, even a narrow majority of public opinion is significant. It indicates that a meaningful number of people have crossed over to the other side of a debate. In the CBS poll, for example, 21 percent of Republican voters said they believed Trump had encouraged violence during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. (A new Times video lays out the many lies he told about the election, feeding the crowd’s anger.)
The case against Trump
Yesterday was the opening day of the Senate’s impeachment trial, and the weakness of Trump’s case was on display.
Representative Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat leading the prosecution, opened with a video montage showing both the Jan. 6 attack and Trump’s words during that day. (You can watch it here.) Raskin later delivered an impassioned argument recalling his own experience that day.
“All around me, people were calling their wives and their husbands, their loved ones to say goodbye. Senators, this cannot be our future. This cannot be the future of America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people.”
Raskin and other Democratic managers also said that Trump’s lawyers were creating a dangerous precedent by arguing the trial was invalid because Trump was no longer in office. If that were true, the end of every president’s time in office would turn into a “January exception” when he would be immune from consequences for his actions.
David Schoen, a lawyer for Trump, addressed the Senate, holding a handbook on the U.S. Constitution. Senate Television
Trump’s lawyers condemned the attack on the Capitol but said Democrats were pursuing impeachment out of partisan vengeance. And they argued that making a former president stand trial would establish the precedent for any former official to be punished at the whim of the party in power.
“This is nothing less than the political weaponization of the impeachment process,”
David Schoen, one of the former president’s lawyers, said.
But the performance of Trump’s lawyers received mostly dreadful reviews.
Trump himself was furious while watching the proceedings from Palm Beach, Fla., my colleague Maggie Haberman reported. And several of Trump’s Senate allies — including Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham — criticized his lawyers’ case as ineffective.
Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, called the prosecutors’ case focused, organized and compelling.
“President Trump’s team were disorganized. They did everything they could but to talk about the question at hand, and when they talked about it, they kind of glided over it, almost as if they were embarrassed of their arguments.”
Carl Hulse, The Times’s chief Washington correspondent, noted that the Trump team’s strategy had changed from his last impeachment.
“I haven’t heard either of the president’s lawyers say he did nothing wrong. This is a process argument and the Trump team wants to stay away from what happened on Jan. 6 as much as possible.”
A conviction seems unlikely, largely because many Republican senators fear upsetting the majority of Republican voters who still support Trump. Only six Republican senators voted yesterday with Democrats to proceed with the trial. The remaining agreed with Trump’s lawyers that the Senate could not try a former president. Cassidy was the only senator to change his mind since a similar vote last month.
Still, the first day did not go well for Trump’s team. Most Americans believe that he incited a violent mob to attack Congress and that he should never hold office again. His lawyers didn’t do much to change that perception yesterday.
Coming up today: The House managers will begin making a more detailed case for convicting Trump, starting around noon Eastern.