But their overriding political calculation was clear. After party leaders briefly entertained using the process to purge Mr. Trump from their ranks, Republicans doubled down on a bet made five years ago: that it was better not to stoke another open confrontation with a man millions of their voters still singularly embrace.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, embodied the tortured balancing act, denouncing Mr. Trump on Saturday, minutes after voting to acquit him, for a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.” In blistering remarks from the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell, who had openly considered voting to convict Mr. Trump, effectively argued that he was guilty as charged, while arguing that there was nothing the Senate could do about it.
“There is no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” Mr. McConnell said. “The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things.”
But Mr. McConnell, who refused to call the Senate back into session to hold the trial while Mr. Trump was still in office, argued that he could not be convicted once he no longer was. Mr. McConnell said the only way to punish him now was through the criminal justice system. Mr. Trump, he said, “didn’t get away with anything yet.”
Minutes after the verdict, Mr. Trump, barred from Twitter, broke an uncharacteristic silence he had maintained during the trial with a defiant statement issued from his post-presidential home in Florida, calling the proceeding “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country.”
He expressed no remorse for his actions, and strongly suggested that he planned to continue to be a force in politics for a long time to come.
“In the months ahead, I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people,” Mr. Trump said.