Impeachment effort likely to define US vote

By Sun Chenghao Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/7 18:28:39

Photo: IC

US President Donald Trump is now facing the gravest crisis of his tenure, becoming the fourth president in the country's history after Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton to face an impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives. 

After Ukrainegate, in which Trump was accused of delaying a military aid package as leverage on Ukraine's president, the morale of the Democrats was soaring and the chorus for impeaching Trump rose sharply. Coming under party pressure and the prospect of Democrats getting a fillip in the upcoming presidential election, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had hesitated to initiate the impeachment process in the beginning, changed stance.

Although the US political system uses checks and balances, and the Congress has the power to impeach and convict a president in theory, the complexity of the system makes the impeachment process rather tedious. 

Historically, no American president has been successfully impeached or convicted. 

Trump still has a solid "red wall" in the Senate to protect him from being convicted and removed from office if he is impeached in the House. So even if Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and some other Republican senators would like to vote for conviction, it wouldn't change a thing when the number of senators who support Trump is more than 34.

But the Democrats will not easily give up this golden opportunity. The Democratic Party, which has never broken away from the shadow of the 2016 election, is well prepared to fight Trump and is not satisfied only with digging up Ukrainegate. 

Instead, the six committees in the House led by Democrats use the impeachment inquiry as an umbrella to investigate other possible issues like abuse of security clearances by Trump, his financial conflicts of interest and the like. The Democrats also escalated the impeachment fight with the president by subpoenaing the White House to seek more documents related to the purported scandal. 

Now Trump is standing at a critical juncture of his presidency since the direction and impact of the impeachment are full of uncertainties. In the short term, the impeachment inquiry is definitely not good news for Trump. 

After winning the 2016 presidential election, Trump has almost been "scandal-ridden" and rumors of chaos in the White House have never ceased. 

The impeachment investigation triggered by Ukrainegate will consume Trump and his team's energy and resources and hurt attempts to push forward their own political agenda. If more convincing evidence of Trump's misconducts as a president is discovered by the House, it will greatly undermine his image as the candidate for the presidential election. 

In the long run, however, the impeachment might not necessarily be bad news for Trump. One of the key indicators to observe is whether the majority believe that those accusations rise to the level of being impeachable. 

According to several surveys, the country is still sharply divided along partisan lines on the merits of the impeachment.

If most US citizens gradually feel tired of Democrats' political assault on Trump and believe that the impeachment is merely a tool for a partisan fight, the opposition will end up hurting themselves. The Democratic nominee could take a hit due to disapproval by independent voters and some Democrats in Congress may lose their seats. 

Since the impeachment effort will most likely define the 2020 presidential election than any other traditional issue, Trump can use the "witch-hunt" rhetoric to consolidate his support base, and create sympathy among swing voters to help his own campaign. That is why Pelosi was dithering to initiate an impeachment inquiry after the release of the Mueller report.

There are two repercussions of the ongoing impeachment process. One is that Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren might be the real winner if Trump is thrown out of office. Although it is still too early to conclude that former US vice president Joe Biden's campaign is faltering, several polls have already put Warren ahead of Biden. Nobody has proven that Biden was involved in his son's business in Ukraine, but there is no evidence that the Democrat had nothing to do with it when he was the US vice president and his son was offered a seat on the board of Ukraine's largest gas company.

The impeachment will also act as fuel for highly polarized US politics. Polarization is not a fresh phenomenon in US politics. It has led to partisan rancor, legislative gridlock and government inefficiency. It is not likely the impeachment inquiry, even if there is new information revealed, would create more bipartisan consensus. On the contrary, the battle lines between the two parties will be drawn more clearly. One possibility to end the ugly fight is that Republicans abandon Trump, but the cost of losing the presidential election in 2020 is something they can't afford.

The author is an assistant research professor at the Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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