The impeachment process has left the president seemingly in a more powerful position – but some experts believe Democrats ‘had to do it’
Donald Trump’s acquittal brought to an end a battle that the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, never wanted in the first place and could pose future problems for the Democratic party as it seeks to now oust the president at the ballot box.
Pelosi said in January that the president “has been impeached forever” and would always be a stain on his record. But in the shorter term, there are fears that Democrats, who unanimously found Trump guilty in the Senate, could now face serious consequences in November.
Indeed, the impeachment process has left Trump seemingly in a more powerful position, not a weaker one.
On Tuesday, Trump recorded his highest ever approval rating in one poll, as the Democratic Iowa caucus collapsed into disarray. Republicans and their associated political organizations are taking aim at Democrats for their votes, leading some to worry about elections for the president, Senate, and House in November. Democratic senator Doug Jones, running for re-election in deep red Alabama, voted to convict Trump, an act that is unlikely to be forgotten by many voters there.
Following the acquittal verdict Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader, claimed that Republicans up for re-election are “in better shape today than they were before the impeachment trial started”.
The movement to impeach Trump was initially a slow-burner. Only a handful of Democratic politicians called for impeachment, but more came on board after Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 election – which catalogued multiple ways in which Trump may have obstructed justice.
That trickle became a flood in October, after it emerged Trump had sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son – at the same time as the Trump administration was withholding aid to the country.
More than 75 House Democrats came out in support of impeachment over the course of three days, which was finally enough to bring Pelosi, who had been fearful of the impact it could have on the Democratic party, on board.
With Trump now acquitted, however, there are signs that his position might have been strengthened, rather than damaged, by the trial. On Tuesday, Gallup logged Trump’s approval at 49%, the highest he has reached in a Gallup poll. FiveThirtyEight’s average has Trump’s approval at 43.5% – low for presidents historically, but at the upper end of Trump’s approval over the past three years.
Polling aside, however, some believe Trump left Democrats with no choice but to impeach.
“They had to do it,” said Robert Kuttner, a professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and co-editor of the American Prospect.
“There were so many different kinds of abuses of office that not to have done it would have been a disgrace.”
But for all the speculation that Democrats could rue putting the president on trial, Kuttner said he sees more pros than cons.
“It is going to put five, six, seven senators who face re-election this November in an awkward position, where in swing states, where there are voters who like Trump, they’re going to have to explain how they condone a president who thinks he’s above the law, and why they voted to acquit.”
The Republican senators Susan Collins, Martha McSally, Cory Gardner and Joni Ernst – who represent Maine, Arizona, Colorado and Iowa – are among those at risk. All are up for re-election in relatively moderate states, and all found Trump not guilty on Wednesday. In January, the liberal organization Progressive Turnout Project launched an ad campaign targeting each senator in their home states.
Dietrich said as well as tying vulnerable Republican senators or congressman to Trump, the impeachment trial it is an opportunity to contrast Democrats’ activity with the actions of the White House.
“The Democrats have passed over 400 bills through the House, to expand access to healthcare, to fight climate change, to hold corporations accountable and pay their fair share, to make sure the average American worker can survive, and thrive, so our children have a better future,” he said.
“The Republicans have been busy calling foreign governments to investigate a presidential rival.”
The ultimate test will come on November 3. Democrats felt they had to act. Now they have to hope enough voters feel the same.
But some things, perhaps, are more important than politics. Many Democrats during the impeachment process made reference to history and a view of American democracy beyond any single president. Impeaching Trump, they argued, would serve to dissuade future presidents from similar acts.
“We knew going in he was likely to be acquitted. Just because something is difficult and hard, but is the right thing to do, doesn’t mean you don’t do it,’ said Kelly Dietrich, a long-time Democratic campaign adviser and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee, which offers free coaching to Democrats and progressives on how to run for office.
“Democrats have made the case for law and order, and that no one is above the law. And now every Republican senator will be on the record as to whether or not they put party or country first – and I think we have the answer.”
Dietrich said there is an opportunity for Democrats to paint Republicans as the “party of Trump” – a concept reinforced by Trump’s celebration of the not guilty verdict. The president re-posted a gif featuring a series of campaign-style Trump signs, running from the year 2024 all the way up to the year 90,000.
“There are certainly positives and negatives. It can’t all be positive,” Dietrich said.
“Everything you do in politics is a risk. if Democrats did nothing, people would be saying Democrats are weak: ‘The Democrats let Trump them walk all over them.’ No matter what you do someone is going to complain.
“This was the right thing to do.”
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