Former President Donald Trump still has one strike left before he’s out, at least in baseball terms.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, Trump was acquitted by the Senate on impeachment charges for the second time. For those in the political know, it was a foregone conclusion. Any chance of a Trump conviction all but disappeared as soon as he left the White House. Republicans questioned the constitutionality of the impeachment itself, since Trump was no longer a president, but a private citizen. Democrats wanted to make a statement, and perhaps even guarded a small hope that their video evidence would be enough to flip enough votes in their favor.
But all sides knew that it would take nothing short of a miracle for that to happen.
That miracle never arrived. Senate needed a supermajority in order to convict Trump—67 votes. With 50 Democratic senators, that meant that 17 Republicans had to vote for Trump’s conviction. Only six Republicans voted with the Democrats on the legality of the impeachment trial itself, which required a majority to move forward. Getting at least another 11 Republicans to join the cause, even on the weak assumption that the original six Republicans would also vote to convict Trump, seemed like the long shot of long shots.
Politically, there was little incentive for Republicans. Even after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which was the focus of this impeachment trial, many of Republican senators’ constituents remained fiercely supportive of Trump and Trumpian politics. To vote against their interests could spell political trouble come reelection time, and since Trump’s platform had shrunk considerably since being locked out of the Oval Office and his Twitter account, there didn’t seem to be any immediate danger. For many Republicans, a better strategic move might be to stick with the GOP whether they wanted to convict Trump or not, in the hopes that they were calling Trump’s bluff. Maybe, by 2024, Trump would no longer be interested in a second term or would be otherwise ineligible.
All this to say, the second impeachment trial was doomed to fail. So why go through with it at all? The United States is currently in a race against time to reach a high enough herd immunity threshold against the original Covid-19 strain so that when the new strains inevitably start infecting people, they won’t be powerful enough to launch another year of lockdowns and quarantine. Whatever help Congress can provide to the vaccination rollout, financial or otherwise, can’t wait for anything—not even Trump’s impeachment.
The Washington Post published an interactive graph showing how quickly the U.S. can reach her immunity given different herd immunity thresholds and vaccination shots given per day and explaining how the new strains could come into play. If the herd immunity threshold is 70 percent, as most experts agree is a good best-case estimate, and the Biden administration manages to reach 1.5 million shots a day, it will take until Nov. 13, 2021, to reach herd immunity. If somehow the daily dosage increased to 5 million vaccinations per day, the U.S. would reach herd immunity on April 19, 2021. That could be the difference between a return to normalcy by the end of the year and an indefinite prolongment of the pandemic caused by the new strains infecting too many people before widespread vaccination.
The U.S. doesn’t need a repeat of the testing rollout disaster, exacerbated by unnecessary delay in government action. We may never know, but it’s very possible that pursuing the highly improbable impeachment conviction may have also condemned the vaccination race to eventual failure.
In my opinion, Congress should not have gone through with the impeachment trial. New Covid-19 strains are spreading and there is a 100 percent chance that the spread will have fatal costs. On the other hand, the next election is in four years, and much can change between now and then, making Trump’s position behind at the debate podium in 2024 far from certain.
In the next months, Congress must focus on problems they know are real, not hypotheticals. After all, this isn’t a baseball game—we don’t get the luxury of three mistakes before disaster strikes.