President Donald Trump is coming to the end of his impeachment this weekend, the result of which promises to embolden him in the face of the November elections and to tie him even more tightly to a Republican Party that has put his doubts about the president to rest.
With witnesses such as former presidential adviser John Bolton being ruled out in a close vote on Friday, no further bumps are expected to prevent Trump from being acquitted of the two charges he faces for his pressure on Ukraine in another Senate vote next Wednesday.
AN EXPRESS IMPEACHMENT
Aware that only a miracle could cause a score of Republicans to switch sides and give the Democrats the two-thirds majority they need to remove him, Trump is confident that the outcome of the “impeachment” will strengthen his re-election options, in a country even more polarized than at the beginning of the process.
“Trump’s polling numbers are the highest since his election, despite the constant charades and (Democratic) witch hunts,” Trump wrote this Saturday on Twitter.
He was referring to the average polls taken by the RealClearPolitics website, which this week reflected his popularity among 45% of Americans, the highest proportion since February 2017, at the start of his presidency, though not since his election.
Trump has reason to sing his praises: the one that will close on Wednesday will be an express political trial, three weeks shorter than the one that then President Bill Clinton held in 1999, and the first of the 15 held in US history that has not included the summoning of witnesses or documents in the Senate.
It is, above all, a proof of Trump’s control over his party and a reflection of the evolution of the Republicans, who at the beginning of his presidency saw him mostly with suspicion and who now close ranks practically without fissures around the president.
“If any doubt remained that the Republican Party has become Mr. Trump’s party, it has dissipated almost entirely during the impeachment,” wrote the Washington editor of The Wall Street Journal, Gerald Seib, on Saturday.
Trump’s imminent acquittal will also be a validation of the steps he has taken to absorb power from the legislative branch: first, with the apparent withholding of congressionally approved aid to Ukraine for political reasons; and then, by refusing to hand over documents to the lower house, which has the power to demand them.
After the closing arguments on Monday and his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Trump will finally be able to breathe easy on Wednesday afternoon, when the Senate will finally vote to acquit him of the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
Trump will then become the first president in modern U.S. history to run for office after being indicted politically.
Of the other two U.S. presidents acquitted by the Senate, Clinton passed his impeachment as early as his second term in office, with no possibility of re-election; while Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) emerged from the process so weakened that he could not be trusted by his party to nominate him for a second term.
It is unlikely that Trump will suffer the same fate as Johnson: the same Republican Party that in 2016 was debating anxiously how to stop the tycoon’s rise has decided, four years later, that it is in its interest to tie itself to a popular leader in many conservative districts.
“A PERMANENT ASTERISK”
The biggest food for thought will have to come from the Democratic opposition, whose leader in the Lower House, Nancy Pelosi, refused for many months to initiate a political trial against Trump on the grounds that failure to reach a two-thirds majority in the Senate would leave her party in a bad way.
But the revelation that Trump withheld military aid while pressuring Ukraine to investigate one of its potential rivals in 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden, led many Democrats to argue that letting such an abuse of power go would set a bad precedent in American democracy.
And now, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer argues that Trump’s acquittal will not be, because the express impeachment process has not been credible.
“If there are no witnesses or documents in this trial, there will be a permanent asterisk next to President Trump’s acquittal. (…) His acquittal will be worthless,” Schumer said Friday.