Editor’s Note: This analysis was excerpted from the January 27 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Sign up here to receive it every weekday morning.
Some time in the next few days, the Senate is likely to give Donald Trump what he most craves — an acquittal in his impeachment trial. A late breaking report that John Bolton has information that implicates the US President could see the former national security adviser called to testify. In the slim chance that four Republicans defy their party and vote to hear more witnesses, the process may take slightly longer, but either way, acquittal is a forgone conclusion: The President’s hold on grassroots conservative voters make it electoral suicide for members of the Senate’s Republican majority to convict him. Here’s what will happen next:
Despite having been impeached, the President will use his acquittal as a victory to supercharge supporters and boost his reelection race. To voters who see him as an outsider hero, he will have trounced the establishment forces that tried to topple him. The political momentum could be almost as powerful as his 2016 election win.
Everything we know about Trump’s behavior suggests that he will view acquittal as vindication of his strongman tactics. Foreign actors: Get ready to be asked for political favors. And if Trump wins reelection in November, Democrats will have few means left to restrain him, having already exhausted their most powerful check on presidential power. Only the slow-moving judicial system would stand in his way.
A Constitution changed
Trump’s defense could set a precedent that abuse of power isn’t enough to impeach a president, without an actual crime. And the Oval Office will emerge more powerful because his acquittal will enshrine the principle that a commander-in-chief can simply refuse Congress’s demands for evidence, drastically weakening lawmakers’ checks and balances role. Future Presidents may conclude that there is no price for brazen flexing of unaccountable power – as long as they have the loyalty of sufficient senators.
Do Democrats lose?
So if Trump wins in his impeachment trial, do Democrats lose? Maybe not. Polls have shown that half of Americans now want Trump out of office (though it’s not clear-cut in swing states). If Democrats succeed in portraying Senate Republicans as covering up for a corrupt President, this could be a net political gain. Had House Democrats failed to act when the president used his power for personal advantage, they would have looked impotent and left their voters disengaged. Now they can get back to hitting Trump on healthcare and college debt, issues that might win them the presidential election in November. And for what it is worth, history may view them as defending the Constitution.