What's next for Trump, the Republican Party and Biden?

Donald Trump's impeachment trial has been hanging over the start of Joe Biden's presidency.
Donald Trump's impeachment trial has been hanging over the start of Joe Biden's presidency.PHOTOS: AFP, NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States Senate acquitted Mr Donald Trump last Saturday (Feb 13) of the charge of inciting the Jan 6 assault on the US Capitol in an unprecedented second impeachment trial.

Mr Trump's acquittal raises questions about what's next for the 74-year-old former president, the Republican Party and President Joe Biden.

Donald Trump

Although Mr Trump's acquittal by the Senate was a near certainty, the verdict must have come as a relief to the former president.

In a statement, Mr Trump denounced what he called a "witch hunt" and talked about the future.

"Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun," he said.

"We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future."

Mr Trump has flirted with the idea of running for the White House again in 2024 and a conviction would have likely barred him from holding federal office again.

Since leaving the White House on Jan 20, Mr Trump has been holed up in his Mar-a-Lago resort, deprived of the Twitter account he used to communicate with his many millions of followers.

Ms Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University in Washington and a former Democratic member of the Ohio state senate, said the acquittal could be a "rallying cry" for Mr Trump and his backers.

But she added that "the legacy of Donald Trump for many at this point may be the events of Jan 6, regardless of acquittal".

"There will be Americans who think that Donald Trump had some kind of role," she said, and that could carry over to the real estate tycoon's activities in the private sector.

"It's almost like he has no choice but to continue to try to be in politics," she said.

Political science professor Wendy Schiller at Brown University agreed that Mr Trump's future may be limited.

"If a corporation were to offer him a speaking appearance, the social media backlash would be swift and severe, with possible boycotts of their products," Prof Schiller said.

"Even holding conferences or events at Trump properties will be a problem for large publicly traded companies, or companies that provide a direct to consumer product," she said.

The Republican Party

The fact that the vast majority of Senate Republicans voted to acquit Mr Trump is a clear signal that he retains a grip on the GOP (Grand Old Party).

"The party is his," Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of his most fervent supporters, said last week. "It doesn't belong to anyone else."

But seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president and 10 Republican members of the House of Representatives voted last month to impeach him, including the party's third-ranking member, Ms Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted for acquittal but said Mr Trump was "practically and morally" responsible for the Jan 6 violence.

A number of Republicans have distanced themselves from the former president and are lining up to take their own shot at the White House in 2024.

Among them is former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who said Republicans were wrong for supporting Mr Trump's campaign to reverse the election results, a course that led to the Jan 6 attack on Congress.

"He went down a path he shouldn't have, and we shouldn't have followed him," Ms Haley said in an interview with Politico magazine.

Ms Haley also dismissed speculation Mr Trump will seek the presidency in 2024.

"I don't think he can," she said. "He's fallen so far."

But the Republicans advocating a complete break with Mr Trump are in the minority and most remain fearful of the power he holds over his base.

"GOP senators who vote to acquit may be protecting themselves against primary challenges from the more extreme wing of their party in 2022, or even 2024," Prof Schiller said.

"But they may simultaneously make themselves more vulnerable to defeat in the general election."

Ms Cafaro said Republican lawmakers remaining faithful to Mr Trump were making an "incredibly risky" gamble.

"They're making a decision based upon a snapshot in time that may not exist for them in two years," she said.

A group of anti-Trump former Republican officials has raised the idea of creating a center-right third party but it is unlikely to gain much traction.

Joe Biden

Mr Trump's impeachment trial has been hanging over the start of Mr Biden's presidency and the Democrats must be glad it took just five days.

The Senate will now be in a position to swiftly confirm Mr Biden's Cabinet appointees and work on his legislative agenda as the country struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic and severe economic woes.

"President Biden has done a very good job of separating himself from the impeachment trial proceedings and keep his messaging on the Covid-19 crisis and the accompanying economic crisis," Prof Schiller said.

But Mr Trump remains a force to be reckoned with.

"There's no saying that we're immune from more protests, demonstrations, activism from the far right," Ms Cafaro said. "If and when that happens how Joe Biden deals with them will be something to watch."