It’s now official: Donald Trump is the third U.S. President in history who got impeached. It is still unclear when exactly the Senate will pick up the matter. The outcome however is highly predictable: It’s extremely unlikely that Donald Trump would be removed from office. At this point, I’m not even sure all Democrats in the Senate will vote for removal (thinking of Joe Manchin from West Virginia, for example). So, what is and will be the political impact of this?
We have to distinguish between short-term and long-term implications here. In the short run, it is not surprising that the impeachment would rally and energize Trump’s base. The latest polls seem to point to such an effect. Let’s remember the last impeachment. After Bill Clinton got impeached in 1998, his approval rating hit a record high of 73%. And during the mid-term elections, his Democrats had picked up a few seats in the House.
In the long run, however, things played out differently. When Al Gore tried to succeed to Bill Clinton in the year 2000, he lost to George W. Bush. Now, one could argue that Gore was not an appealing candidate, that he actually won the popular vote or that he didn’t “own” the Clinton years enough. These are all interesting points I would love to discuss for hours. But the big picture is this: The year 2000 was marked by a long economic boom and peace on the international front. In other words, it should have been a sure thing for Democrats. And the way I remember the exit polls, I think it was a quarter or a fifth of the voters who said that the impeachment played a key role in their choice. I’m not saying that Trump can’t win reelection. But what happened last week is definitely not something any president would wish to happen to himself.