“I could see it as possible. I certainly don’t know how many there could be. Certainly not enough for conviction,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D).
Any Republican voting to convict the president would make huge waves, even if the tally falls far short of 17 GOP senators needed to secure a conviction, as is nearly assured. The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the president last month are all facing various degrees of blowback, from censure to early primary challenges.
The Trump legal team began shoring things up on Friday after a disastrous start earlier this week. Even Republicans plainly at odds with Trump said the defense had stepped up its game.
“We’ve seen a much stronger presentation from the defense,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told reporters during an intermission Friday. “They have been very organized in what they’ve presented and how they’ve done it.”
And a photograph of Sen. Bill Cassidy’s notes Friday afternoon suggested that despite his criticism earlier this week of Trump’s lawyers, he is leaning towards acquittal. A spokesperson for the Louisiana Republican tweeted that he has not yet made up his mind.
In his closing argument, Trump attorney Bruce Castor defended Trump’s rhetoric by pointing out he had been threatening senators with primary threats during his speech on Jan. 6. It was a reminder of how a vote for conviction will play in the GOP.
“Nobody in this chamber is anxious to have a primary challenge. That is one truism I think I can say with some certainty. But that’s the way we operate in this country,” Castor said. Murkowski is up for reelection next year.
GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Cassidy and Murkowski are all on record deeming the trial constitutional, making them the base of Republicans considering conviction. Cassidy changed his opinion on constitutionality since last month, saying the House Democrats made an effective presentation.
In addition, Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Richard Burr of North Carolina are being watched closely by their colleagues. Both are retiring next year, along with Toomey — in theory relieving them of political considerations.
“I’m not going to even talk about it until it’s done,” Burr said Friday. Asked if it was fair to say he was genuinely undecided, he responded: “It’s fair to say I’m not going to talk to you about it at all.”