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Tuesday 6 June 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Alex Brandon/PA Images
# Analysis
'It's emboldened Trump. But then everything emboldens him': Focus turns to election after impeachment victory
The starting gun in the 2020 presidential race was shot this week.

“AMERICA’S FUTURE IS blazing bright,” according to US President Donald Trump in his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. 

Of course, if you were to ask him, the only way it has and will continue to blaze bright is his occupation of the Oval Office. For America to prosper, he must be at the helm. When he is acting, he is acting in America’s best interests.

And that’s exactly the argument made by his lawyers at the damp squib that was the Senate impeachment trial – from which Trump was formally acquitted last night. 

One of Trump’s lawyers – Alan Dershowitz – said that every politician conflated their own interest with the public interest. 

dc-us-senate-floor-proceedings-during-the-impeachment-trial-of-us-president-trump CNP / SIPA USA/PA Images Alan Dershowitz CNP / SIPA USA/PA Images / SIPA USA/PA Images

In this case, Trump targeting a rival and asking for the help of the Ukrainian president to investigate that rival’s son is fair game, according to Dershowitz, because the president believes his re-election is the “public interest”. 

The Republicans have the majority in the Senate. The partisanship of US politics is such that it was always going to be very unlikely for Trump to be removed from office.

Despite the defection of Mitt Romney to vote against the Republican party, the outcome was never close to being changed. The White House claimed his acquittal represents the “full vindication and exoneration” of the president. 

Democrats were dismayed, calling it “madness” and the “normalisation of lawlessness”. It doesn’t matter. Nobody was listening.

But, with the primaries to choose the Democratic nomination under way and the State of the Union also happening this week, the American people who soon be paying attention according to assistant professor in political theory and human rights at UCD Graham Finlay.

He told “We won’t know until November the extent to which people have made up their minds about Trump. He’s spoiling for a fight and has all the advantages of incumbency while the Democrat field is busy attacking each other.”

After Trump’s acquittal from impeachment, all eyes will turn now to whether he can be re-elected for a second term in November – and who’ll be facing him. 

A disaster in Iowa

If the caucus in Iowa to determine who that State wants to be the next Democratic nomination for the presidency was a chance for the party to put its best foot forward after its failure to make headway in the impeachment trial, it was more a case of two steps back.

Iowa has usually been the first in the nation to return results. It would set a tone for the primaries to come as the Democrats sought to wrest the control of the narrative from Trump.

The results from Iowa were supposed to land at 3am Irish time in the early hours of Tuesday morning. They didn’t.

A new app distributed to party officials around the State was supposed to help them report results more quickly. The app failed, only delivering partial results.

“It’s clear the Democrat party screwed up,” Finlay said. “They used an app they knew had issues.”

When the partial results were published, it was moderate 38-year-old Pete Buttigieg who had a surprising lead over frontrunner Bernie Sanders. 

pete-buttigieg-takes-early-lead-in-iowa-delegate-race Reynolds Stefani / CNP/ABACA Pete Buttigieg Reynolds Stefani / CNP/ABACA / CNP/ABACA

Where the primaries will be a formality for Trump, they’ll be fought tooth and nail by the likes of Buttigieg, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden for the chance to battle Trump in November.

Biden had expected to be in the mix for top spot at the Iowa caucus but was trailing in fourth behind his rivals.

He was implicated in the impeachment proceedings as Trump was seeking to have the affairs of son looked into by Ukrainian officials. His third bid for the presidency is certainly stumbling at present.

election-2020-joe-biden Mary Altaffer / PA Images Biden wishing a voter a happy 80th birthday. Mary Altaffer / PA Images / PA Images

Another presidential hopeful hoping to make a mark is billionaire Michael Bloomberg. The former New York mayor doesn’t have to fundraise as he’s bankrolling his candidacy himself. 

Bloomberg is the “wildcare” according to Finlay, spending an incredible amount of money on adverts nationally to try to woo delegates to give him the nomination. 

Buttigieg’s strong showing in Iowa could be an outlier against the more fancied Sanders and Warren ahead of Super Tuesday – where 15 presidential primaries are held on the same day – on 3 March. 

“There’s a big fight between the left and the centre of the Democratic party,” Finlay said, singling out Sanders and Warren as the more left candidates compared with Buttigieg and Biden. 

Emboldened Trump

Far from being forced from office, the impeachment proceedings have seen Trump declared not guilty.

The finale to the trial won’t mean an end to Democratic-led investigations, but it gives Trump momentum in his bid to win another four years after a tumultuous, scandal-filled first term.

Although he has never got approval ratings over 50 percent during his presidency, this most polarising of politicians was able to celebrate a personal best on the eve of the impeachment verdict – 49 percent, according to Gallup.

With a ferociously loyal right-wing base packing his frequent rallies around the country, Trump thinks he has enough strength to win.

Finlay said: “This seems to have emboldened Trump. But then everything emboldens him. And he has these rallies where he says outlandish things.”

The Iowa debacle for the Democrats was a further boost. He gleefully mocked them for their “unmitigated disaster” of a caucus night.

Tweet by @Donald J. Trump Donald J. Trump / Twitter Donald J. Trump / Twitter / Twitter

And his constant refrains of “do-nothing Democrats” and of “witch hunts” is surely to remain a feature as the campaign intensifies over the coming months. 

UCD lecturer Finlay said: “The economy is doing okay, but not as well as he says it is. His approval ratings are higher than they’ve ever been. They’ve actually gone up during the impeachment process. Almost half, more than half – depending on the polls – want him impeached and removed. Which one is right? 

All the opinion polls pitting Trump against potential rivals are very tight. Being behind in the polls also didn’t stop him winning the presidency last time out. 

The end of the impeachment trial coinciding with the first Democratic caucus and Trump’s State of the Union address has served to act as the first starting gun in the 2020 presidential race.

Whether America will still be “blazing bright” with another term for President Donald Trump in 10 months’ time remains to be seen. 

As for who could beat him, Bernie Sanders is the one looking most likely to get the nomination at present. If he got in, it’d mean a 79-year-old socialist in the White House.

Finlay pondered: “Have Americans suffered enough to embrace a radical alternative?”

In America – as in Ireland – voters will soon be facing the choice of whether to back the “radical” choice to lead them forward.

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