Last year, Mr. Biden said he didn’t think it was “good for democracy” to prosecute a former president. He said he would leave the choice of whether to pursue federal cases to the Justice Department. And by naming Merrick B. Garland, a moderate appeals court judge, to be attorney general, Mr. Biden signaled a reversal of Mr. Trump’s warping of the Justice Department to attack his political enemies.
But many Democratic voters said that letting Mr. Trump go unpunished, including his potential violation of the constitutional ban on profiting from a foreign government while in office, would only encourage future autocratic behavior in the White House.
“The next guy who wants to be dictator or whoever, he’s going to be a lot smarter than Trump,” said Robert Landry, a retired truck driver in Two Rivers, Wis. “If you don’t hold these people accountable and say, ‘No, this is too far,’ somebody’s going to come along and push it further. I believe some of those people are already in Congress.”
A political independent, Mr. Landry, 69, is hardly a moderate arguing for comity across the aisle. On the contrary, he lamented that former President Barack Obama had “tried to do kumbaya” after taking office, rejecting broad inquiries into the George W. Bush administration over domestic spying and the use of torture by the C.I.A.
That was a mistake, Mr. Landry said, complaining that Democrats don’t play hardball the way Republicans do. “If they let people get away with stuff, they’ll lose my vote,” he said. “I won’t vote Republican again, but I won’t vote Democratic.”
Democratic voters rejected the view that a Senate trial of Mr. Trump would only inflame national divisions, arguing that the deep divides in the country could hardly be worse, and that the expectation of bipartisanship was mostly an illusion.
“The Democrats have unsuccessfully tried to be moderate in order to gain compromise and cooperation over and over again, and it hasn’t worked and it’s not going to work,” said Dave Bone, 54, an energy efficiency consultant who lives in Philadelphia.