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The protective cocoon of the party

There are seemingly endless points of comparison between the acquittal of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton following his impeachment earlier this year and similar acquittals enjoyed by then-President Donald Trump.

Trump was impeached by the House twice, once after a lengthy investigation established that he and his team had sought to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation into Joe Biden and once after the he riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Paxton (right) was impeached following a number of allegations and investigations centered on corruption and bribery. The main difference was that most Republicans in the Texas legislature voted to impeach Paxton from the start. But, as with Trump, Republican defections were minimal since the attorney general was acquitted — allowing Paxton, like Trump, to play the martyr, lashing out at his enemies in a show of toughness.

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Ironically, this was facilitated in each case by the timidity of the Republican ranks.

Last week, The Atlantic published an excerpt from a forthcoming biography of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in which the senator described his frustration with his colleagues during Trump’s impeachment trials. In the first, on Ukraine, he claims, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told him that House prosecutors had “nailed” Trump, implying his guilt. But McConnell then publicly called for the president’s acquittal. (McConnell told author McKay Coppins that he did not remember this conversation.)

Romney reports that when Trump was impeached again following the Capitol riots, Republicans refused to vote against Trump, in part out of fear of the repercussions of doing so. One of them, he told Coppins, had “believed that Trump would be impeached by House Democrats with or without him – why put his wife and children in danger if it wouldn’t change the outcome ? » Romney voted to convict – then invested heavily in security.

A Texas Tribune article indicates that similar reasoning regarding the results was at play for Paxton. State Sen. Royce West (D-) told the outlet that “some Republicans supported the conviction but changed their vote when it became clear they did not have the required two-thirds support,” wrote the gallery.

The result was that only two Republican senators voted to convict Paxton, fewer than the nine required for his ouster. And the result of that was that Paxton was able to dismiss everything, just as Trump has repeatedly done.

“The sham impeachment coordinated by the Biden administration with liberal House Speaker Dade Phelan and his kangaroo court,” Paxton said in a statement, “cost taxpayers millions of dollars, disrupted the work of the attorney general’s office and left a dark and permanent stain on the Texas House.

“I was impeached for a perfect phone call,” Trump said of his first impeachment, in an interview on NBC News over the weekend. “…We had a vote of 196 to nothing – Republicans. Very unusual for the Republican Party. I was so proud of them. One hundred and ninety-six. The entire House, not a single person, disagreed. And then – other than Romney, who kind of gave me half a vote, but we had 100 percent in the Senate.

Texas Attorney General Acquitted in Historic Impeachment Trial

In each case, the broad support of their political allies allows them to reject the accusations against them. This allows them to maintain the impression that they are attacking their enemies – and allows their allies to present themselves in the same way.

Over the weekend, CBS News released the results of a new poll conducted by YouGov. One question straddled this point, assessing the parties’ likely 2024 presidential candidates.

Respondents were asked if there were certain qualities they were looking for in a presidential candidate. “Tough” and “caring” were identified by two-thirds of respondents as desired qualities, with three others chosen by about 6 in 10 respondents: “calm,” “pragmatic” and “energetic.”

President Biden was considered “calm” and “caring” by most of those surveyed. Trump was considered a “pragmatic,” “energetic,” and “tough” man. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they wanted a “tough” candidate; two-thirds said it described Trump.

In the chart below, a word placed higher is the one most commonly used to describe Trump (red) or Biden (blue). A word placed further to the right is one more word people say they want in a candidate.

The fact that Trump is seen as a “pragmatic” man might itself inspire further analysis, but let’s focus on this idea of ​​toughness. There are certainly many triggers for this perception, including combativeness. The fact that he can dismiss this first indictment as partisan is particularly useful, however, given that it allows him to frame all questions about his behavior in the same way. His accusations become scare exercises by the left in the eyes of his supporters, rather than examinations of potential illegal activity. He is the warrior of his movement, not a suspected criminal.

Party loyalty reduces the incentive to hold powerful leaders accountable. This then strengthens the status of these leaders. In Trump’s case, that means he can more easily maintain his air of “toughness,” with even 4 in 10 Democrats giving him that label — and half of Democrats say it’s something they want in a president.

Paxton, meanwhile, remains attorney general. He still faces a federal investigation into his actions, but, for today at least, he can benefit from the toughness his party gives him.


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