Only the politically very naïve would have thought that the President of the United States, Donald Trump, who had been impeached in the House of Representatives last December was going to be convicted in the Senate and thrown out of office.
From the time the impeachment process started playing it out in the House and Senate, it was very clear that if anything is going to have the upper hand it was going to be partisan politics. And that is exactly how it fanned out in both Chambers but not without the elements of antics and theatrics.
To Democrats, both in the House and the Senate, Trump was absolutely guilty of the two articles of impeachment—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
But Republicans in both Chambers refused to buy this and some argued that even if there was an abuse of power it did not meet the bar of throwing a President out.
And in the end, a sole Republican in the Senate, Mitt Romney, broke ranks with his party and voted with the Democrats on abuse of power but stayed with his Grand Old Party colleagues by voting against Democrats’ obstruction of Congress charge. Some Democrats have argued that the Senate trial was nothing but a sham; but the truth of the matter is that this sham was all too known and transparent the day the Articles of Impeachment reached the doors of Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, a die-hard Trump supporter who ruthlessly played the numbers game and shot down every one of the Democrats’ demand to bring in additional witnesses like former National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Needing a simple majority to force new witnesses, the Democrats needed four Republicans but they could muster only two.
The Republicans argued, and with some merit, that the impeachment of President Trump in the Senate was not much different from the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998. At that time the House was controlled by the Republicans and the Senate by Democrats, and it was widely known that the conviction of President Clinton in the Senate was a long shot as it required 67 votes. But what is being forgotten is that there are differences between the impeachments of Clinton and Trump: Clinton was rapped with a sex scandal and Trump with a political issue of whether he pressured a foreign leader for domestic political gains and obstructed Congress by not allowing witnesses to come forward and testify.
And one would have to keep in mind the environment of 1998 and 2020: between one of civility and deep polarization which is only going to get worse in the months ahead.
In all the drama and the circus that had been played out in the last two months or so, the question needs to be asked is if Democrats got any real political mileage out of the impeachment process. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, knew from Day One that this conviction was not going to be coming from the Senate given how hard the Republicans have been rallying around the President and playing by the rule book of the White House. And Nancy Pelosi also knows that this has nothing to do with any great admiration for the person in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but out of a fear of antagonizing a person in an election year; a fear of invoking the wrath of a person whose vocabulary is not strictly parliamentary by any standards. Still, Speaker Pelosi and Democrats pushed along with a hope that American people will see through Trump and hopefully will make a wise decision in 2020.
President Trump is basking in his so-called victory, and what made his day even better was the Iowa Caucus mess that showed Democrats cannot even get their act together in a first caucus/primary that the whole nation was anxiously watching. To Trump the Democrats were obsessed about getting him out of office from Day One he stepped in the White House in January 2017; and that the political opposition was desperate to undo the election of 2016. Till this date Trump refuses to see that he lost the popular vote in 2016—he still believes that “millions” were denied their rightful vote.
And for the last three years plus, the President’s incendiary speeches filled with vitriol against the political opposition and groups have only polarized America to the point that people believe that things are going to get worse.
For all the noise made by Democrats, a Gallup Poll taken in the midst of the Senate Impeachment trial showed the approval rating of Trump had risen to 49 per cent, or the highest since he took office in 2017. The poll also showed that 50 per cent of Americans disapproving Trump with just 1 per cent having no opinion. Not surprisingly this poll also showed that 52 per cent of Americans favoured acquitting the President and only 46 per cent in favor of a conviction and removal from office. His political base continues to be intact with about 94 per cent of registered Republicans supporting him, or six points higher in a poll taken in early January. Even among Independents, his approval rating has gone up by 5 per cent. The Gallup Poll showed that Trump’s popularity had, among others, to do with confidence in the economy; and approval of American military strike that took out Iranian Major General Soleimani.
Democrats have the task cut out for themselves for November 2020—they can either snipe at one another or they can rally around a ticket that can beat the incumbent. And if Iowa is anything to go by, there is certain trouble ahead for Democrats. President Trump loathes candidates he sees as “socialists”—and in this instance that would be Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
“Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul”, the President said in his latest State of the Union Address to Congress on Feb 4, 2020. This slogan would certainly be one of the prominent ones to fire up his conservative base ahead of the November 3, 2020 showdown.
(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and
the United Nations.)