Clifford Orwin is professor of political science, fellow of St. Michael’s College and senior fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto.
The spectacle of U.S. politics just continues to gather steam.
The verdict of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial has been registered, predictably and to no particular avail – causing that historic moment to slip to no better than the third-wildest story of the week. Upstaging the trial and its outcome of acquittal: the astonishing incompetence of the Democrats’ handling of the Iowa caucuses, reducing their candidates as well as their boosters in the media to gibbering, as well as Mr. Trump’s brazen but effective State of the Union address, at which he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi outdid themselves (but not each other) in mutual incivility.
Where does this leave the Democrats? Waiting for Michael Bloomberg, that’s where – the candidate they need but don’t much want.
The effort to evict Mr. Trump from office simply never rose above ordinary cable fodder; it never crested above the 24-hour news cycle. The Democrats produced nothing new at the Senate trial – nothing they hadn’t offered during the House impeachment proceedings. They needed a bombshell to appall the few Republican senators still capable of that sentiment, but all they had was a new confirmation by former national security adviser John Bolton of their gravest allegation against Mr. Trump. It was better than nothing, but it wasn’t enough to incite a stampede of Republican senators from the side of Mr. Trump, or to move the barometers of public opinion.
The Democrats’ audacious attempt to break the stalemate over Mr. Trump appears for now to have succeeded only in reinforcing it. The Trump they’ll face in November will be an undiminished one – buoyed, not weakened, by his ongoing insolence toward them.
Ever since his inauguration, the Democrats have been looking to oust him. Grandstanding members of Congress filed impeachment motions that were frivolous and thankfully failed. Then they wasted long months looking to the Mueller report for their salvation. After that fizzled, the latest grounds for impeachment surfaced: Mr. Trump’s alleged strong-arming of the President of Ukraine.
It warranted his ouster, but that was always a long shot in the Republican-dominated Senate. But what goes around comes around: To the noisy indignation of Republicans, not a single Democratic senator voted to convict Bill Clinton in 1999 after he was impeached by the Republican-controlled House. On Wednesday, just one Republican senator, Mitt Romney, voted to convict Mr. Trump of any charge after his impeachment by the Democratic House. Both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Trump had thoroughly disgraced the presidency and denied having done so; both could claim that, even if guilty, they had not sunk to the depths of high crimes and misdemeanours. I would have been glad to see both go, but that’s just me, unpleasantly rigid and censorious. You’d have to be Richard Nixon to be impeached and convicted under these procedures – in which case, like him, you’d just resign to avoid it.
The impeachment kerfuffle will likely have little impact on the outcome in November. Having never transcended party lines, it won’t stand out from the endless other squabbles of the past three years. Perhaps in the long run it will peel off some independents from Mr. Trump, which could prove crucial in a close election. But each side used it to roil its base early in the election cycle rather than later, so now will have to work to keep it motivated.
The Republicans’ problems are as obvious as their hopes, both being named Donald J. Trump. If one thing seems clear from the muddle and frenzy of the past two weeks, it’s that he remains eminently beatable – but it will take a strong candidate to do it. How strong? Stronger than any Democrat who contested the Iowa caucuses. This poses a dilemma for the party from which there is no graceful exit.
The week’s most intriguing campaign development occurred far off the impeachment track, in the recently revitalized city of Providence, R.I. It featured Gina Raimondo, the state’s highly successful Democratic Governor. She broke with the aspirations of party activists by endorsing Mr. Bloomberg for the nomination. Yes, Mr. Bloomberg, unwoke and unbowed, the antithesis of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Old, white, male, straight and a tycoon – one far wealthier than Mr. Trump and actually self-made, to boot – he was also once the successful mayor of a city much larger than South Bend, Ind. A former Republican and independent, he is now, like Bernie Sanders, a late-life Democrat by choice.
While I have no claim on Democrats to listen to me, they would do well to heed Ms. Raimondo.
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