We keep hearing that it will take 17 Republican senators to join with all 50 Democrats and convict Donald Trump. But that’s not necessarily true — thanks to one magic word in the Constitution: “present”
The bar set for conviction in an impeachment trial is not two-thirds of all senators, but two-thirds of all senators “present.” This means that if enough Republican senators don’t show up for the final vote, the number needed to join with Democrats will drop accordingly.
Do the math: if, say, 10 Republicans decide to skip the vote, it will take only 10 Republicans and 50 Democrats — 60 out of 90 — to convict. If more stay away, even fewer would be needed.
But why would any Republicans intentionally miss the vote? Because some may be on the fence, politically, and if they feel that a vote either way will drive away some voters, they may take the ambivalent (cowardly) route and choose not to commit.
Yes, their absence will be viewed by some constituents as a constructive vote to convict — but Republicans have long excelled in the art of rationalization. They can say they were torn between the facts and the “constitutionality” of the case and couldn’t honestly decide. They can say it was the flu, or a family crisis, or getting stuck in traffic (not implausible given the Capitol armed camp these days).
So do we really need 17 Republicans with a conscience? Or just 10 who are independent enough to do the right thing and 10 more who will simply stay home?