Five months after the House began an investigation into the President’s dealing with Ukraine, the impeachment of President Donald Trump is over. Impeachment didn’t change much. Trump is still president but with a permanent blotch on his record. However, it now overshadows the political landscape and the 2020 campaign. Congress is still divided, more so than any point in the Trump presidency, and Americans are dissatisfied with their government and more polarized than ever before.
In the end, the Senate voted mostly along party lines to acquit Trump on both articles of impeachment. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the only senator to break ranks with his party and sided with the Democrats to remove the president on the charge of abuse of power. Overall, Trump was able to count on Republican support throughout the process and Democrats remained united.
President Trump’s legal team argued that Democrats in the House of Representatives were using impeachment to overturn the will of the people. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The UK’s Conservative landslide victory in December 2019 was built on popular frustration with parliament’s attempts to block the result of the Brexit referendum. Will Trump ride the same wave of frustration to victory in 2020?
No president has ever run for re-election after being impeached. Trump’s approval rating hit 50 per cent this week, the highest since he took office. Meanwhile, Democrats are still squabbling over who won the first primary contest in the race to take on the president. So far so good for the President.
The President turned his State of the Union address into a campaign rally and used his speech to lay out the core message of his re-election campaign. It’s the economy first and foremost, with immigration and the looming fear of socialism to boot. Trump listed his economic achievements, his actions on foreign policy and trade, as well as some conservative posturing to energize his base. He didn’t mention impeachment once. It’s a fait accompli; the election isn’t.
Hostility between the White House and Congress is at unprecedented levels. Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi haven’t spoken in months. He refused to shake her hand at the State of the Union; she ripped up a copy of the speech at the conclusion of his address. The prospect of legislating in 2020 is grim. Going forward, the President will focus on wins he can achieve: A final US-China trade deal and the Middle East peace plan. Domestically, he will increasingly rely on his executive power to push through on issues like immigration, drug pricing and offshore drilling, forgoing collaboration with what he has labelled “the Do-Nothing Dems”.
What about the Democrats? They may have lost on impeachment, but this will only spur the Democratic base to take action in 2020. Their anger at what they see as a lawless president enabled by Republicans in Congress will drive them to the polls. Voter enthusiasm is at its highest level in years, and turnout will be high on both sides come November. Democrats won’t just be eyeing the presidency. They see a viable path to win back the Senate.
The fight over witnesses could be a boon to Democrats looking to overturn the Republican majority in the Senate. 75 per cent of the public supported calling witnesses for the trial of President Trump. Some vulnerable Republicans, including Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and Martha McSally in Arizona, voted against hearing from witnesses. Democrats will look to make them pay.
Democrats path to power is through health care and appealing to moderate voters. This strategy won them the House of Representatives in 2018, and it could win them the White House in 2020. Trump may use impeachment to rile up his base, but his ticket to re-election rides on the economy.
It’s yet unclear who will benefit from the impeachment saga. What is clear is that the US is gearing up for a bitter and closely fought election race. Buckle up.