Remember impeachment? Me either.
There’s a worldwide pandemic and many Americans are confined to their homes as the US government tries to halt the spread of Covid-19.
So come November, despite being the first impeached President to appear on a presidential ballot afterward, Donald Trump will likely be judged by one thing: His response to the coronavirus.
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That’s a remarkable turn of events when you consider how impeachment dominated the national conversation for months.
How will it go for him? Since no President has ever appeared on a presidential ballot after being impeached, the only precedent available involves candidates running from the same party to succeed impeached – or almost impeached – Presidents. They’ve all lost.
Ford v. Carter
Take Gerald Ford, who was among the few men to be President without ever being elected. He had been House Minority Leader and took over for Richard Nixon’s disgraced first vice president Spiro Agnew. When Nixon resigned – he was not impeached but was about to be – Ford became President and pardoned Nixon.
He ran for election, but failed miserably against Jimmy Carter, who was promising change to Washington. A sour economy, a recent recession and the oil crisis didn’t help Ford’s case.
In a strange inverse of today’s electoral map, Carter won with a unified South. Ford won the West. They split the Midwest and the Northeast.
Gore vs. Bush
Al Gore was Bill Clinton’s vice president and ran for the White House after Clinton was impeached, over his cover-up of an affair in the West Wing.
Instead of having Clinton – a once-in-a-generation political talent – help with his campaign, Gore kept him at arm’s length during the campaign. Clinton was popular but divisive. They had a balanced budget to brag about, but the dot-com bubble had burst and a recession was on the horizon. Gore got more votes, but Bush won in the Electoral College after the Supreme Court banned further recounts. So Gore lost in that he didn’t become President. But this one will always have an asterisk.
The Andrew Johnson case
Then there’s Andrew Johnson, a Southerner and a Democrat who was elected with Abraham Lincoln on a National Union ticket. Johnson took over for Abraham Lincoln after he was assassinated, and was impeached by Republicans who wanted him to do more. He couldn’t even get nominated as a presidential candidate after his impeachment.
But he wouldn’t have stood a chance against Ulysses S. Grant, the conquering general who served two terms. It’s accurate to say that Johnson’s party didn’t win the next election. But this is also unique since Grant, like Lincoln, was a Republican.
Trump is in his own category
Trump’s run for reelection, now, will be like no other: an impeached President who faced down a pandemic and then asked for four more years.
While the coronavirus has given Trump ample opportunity to take up the mantle of national leader and appear presidential at the White House, there’s plenty to criticize in his handling of the crisis – he’s overly optimistic about treatments, brags about his early response for accomplishing more than it did.
And the pandemic will likely rob Trump of what has, heretofore, been his main argument for reelection – a booming stock market, low unemployment and a strong economy.
He was getting maybe more credit than he deserved for those things, which were helped by his tax cuts, but also in the works long before he took office. But he may also get more blame than he deserves if the economy does not bounce back quickly from the Covid-19 shutdown.