Last Sunday the Senate made history by ending one of the oddest and unprecedented presidential impeachment trials in the history of the United States. It was the first time that Congress had impeached a former president since the ratification of the Constitution, the first time an elected official had been impeached twice, and one of the shortest ones in American history.
Seven Republicans voted for the conviction of a president who remains popular in the party, putting themselves in the line of fire on the looming GOP civil war. Let’s see who are they and what are the political risks they face in the upcoming years.
Liza Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME), Mitt Romney (UT), Pat Toomey (PA), Ben Sasse (NE), Bill Cassidy (LA), and Richard Burr (NC) are the lawmakers who voted to convict Donald Trump and -potentially- bar him from holding future public office. Regardless of your opinions on the trial, the indisputable fact is that there will be a significant backlash against these senators for their vote, even endangering the political future of some of them.
We can divide these senators into three groups, based on their level of “political risks”: grave, moderate, and mild.
Grave risk: Lisa Murkowski
The senator from Alaska faces the most uphill political challenge after her vote against President Trump in the Impeachment trial, as she is the only one of the bunch who will face the electors next year. Murkowski has always been a dissonant voice in the Republican Senate Caucus, especially during the Trump administration. She did not vote in favor of the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, was a swing vote during the 2019 impeachment, and called for the resignation of Trump after the January 6th assault on the Capitol.
This approach might prove politically difficult for Murkowski, as Trump won her state by ten points in 2020. Which might be even worse news for the Senator as one poll in 2020 had her with an approval rating of only 29%, compared to 55% disapproval. Furthermore, last year Alaskans approved a reform to their electoral system, merging the primaries of both parties into a single one and allowing the top four candidates (regardless of political party) to go to the general election, where electors will be asked to rank their choices in order of preference.
This new electoral system will change the dynamics of federal elections in Alaska, as republican voters who view her as too moderate would most likely have another Republican (arguably more conservative) who they can support, instead of casting a tactical vote for their current Senator. On the other hand, Murkowski would be hoping that enough Democrats would also rank her on the ballot to offset the anger of the Republican base.
Murkowski is in the immediate line of fire for her Impeachment vote, she has defended her decision by saying that she was defending what she believed and many still remember her epic write-in campaign and victory in 2010 when she defeated both the Democrat and official Republican nominee.
Nevertheless, 2022 is not 2010 and back then Murkowski was not facing the power of the Trump political machine. Only time will tell if the senator would be able to defy political gravity for a second time.
Medium risk: Romney, Collins, Sasse, and Cassidy
These senators will face some backlash due to their decision to vote to convict Trump. However, all of them have won their elections not so long ago and will not have to face the electoral wrath of the MAGA base until a few years down the road, which might give them enough time to make amends with the voters who are upset about their votes against the former president.
Mitt Romney (the former presidential candidate of the GOP) will probably have the toughest challenges from within the party as he not only is up to reelection -2024- sooner than Collins and Sasse but also had the honor (or disgrace) of voting for conviction in both of Trump’s impeachment trials. In fact, the former governor of Massachusetts is already facing a no-confidence motion filed by some Utah Republicans and his personal approval ratings in the state paint a difficult picture, with 64% of republicans disapproving of him.
Collins, on the other hand, has a little bit more of political cover from the fallout of her impeachment vote. She just won a surprising reelection in 2020, defying all polls, and has built a reputation of moderate which is quite useful in a state that is strongly Democrat (Biden won by 9 points). However, more insulated does not mean she will not face any type of backlash, with the Maine GOP already letting know its members to be ready for an emergency meeting where a motion of censure could be discussed.
Sasse is in a similar situation as Collins, he just won reelection in 2020 and will not face his voters for another five years which gives him a decent chance let time repair his image on the more pro-Trump voters of his base. Sasse, on the other hand, has not apologized for his vote and has even criticized his fellow Republicans for following a “cult of personality”. Yet again, Sasse might have good reasons to not be too afraid of Trump, as he received almost 27,000 more votes than the former President in 2020.
Bill Cassidy was reelected in 2020, so as Collins and Sasse will not have to worry about reelection for a while. Nevertheless, his decision was immediately condemned by the Louisiana GOP and he has already been censured by the state party.
Low risk: Pat Toomey and Richard Burr
Both Toomey and Burr will retire once their current terms expire, meaning that the political costs they face are fairly minor as the voters have no actual way to express their anger through the ballot box. The vote will have some political effects in the short-term, however, as Burr was already censored by the North Carolina GOP and Toomey is also facing a vote of no confidence of his own. Although these measures will not have any actual weight on the remainder of their terms, it shows the political risks that come with opposing Trump.
The most damage that this vote will bring to both senators is that it could diminish their stature and influence within the party, both at the state and federal level. It is very likely that the Impeachment vote will be a point of discussion in the primary fights for both senate seats.
It is clear that even if he’s no longer the President, Donald Trump still has significant clout over the Republican voters. Although some of these senators will suffer less political consequences than others, by voting to convict they have decided to risk their political future within the GOP.