In addition to their reliance on the procedural claim that a former president can’t face an impeachment trial, the delay in beginning the trial will give Senate Republicans time to decide that what’s past is past and the threat to their own lives should be waved off as irrelevant—but during that time there may also be further revelations about Trump’s efforts to illegally retain power. So the wait could cut either way, or both at once.
Once the trial begins, the House impeachment managers are expected to use video from the attack, including video like one assembled by Just Security showing the response of the rally crowd on January 6 as Trump exhorted them to march to the Capitol. Footage of the mob inside the Capitol could remind senators of just what that felt like—but many Republicans have shown that they are more afraid of that mob coming after them again in one form or another if they don’t support Trump at all times. “There are only a handful of Republicans and shrinking who will vote against him,” predicts Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is continuing his service as Trump’s lapdog.
Since Trump is now a private citizen, his impeachment trial won’t require the services of Chief Justice John Roberts. Instead, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate president pro tempore, will preside. Some Republicans are trying to make an issue of the lack of Roberts, but only a sitting president merits the chief justice, and that is not Donald Trump. Leahy is firmly pledging total procedural fairness, saying “I don’t think there’s any senator who—over the 40-plus years I’ve been here—that would say that I am anything but impartial in voting on procedure.” And no kidding—it’s as likely that Democrats should worry he’ll bend so far backward to show he’s fair that he’ll form a one-man loop.
Conviction remains unlikely because Trump continues to own the Republican Party too thoroughly for it to be likely that 17 senators will be able to admit to the seriousness of inciting an insurrection that threatened their lives. Which is saying something about just how much of a cult this is. But it’s important to hold the trial—especially with evidence still coming out about both the seriousness of the attack and the scope of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.