The US House of Representatives’ impeachment of Donald Trump will result in legislative paralysis, characterised by an inability to pass budgets, multiple shutdowns, as well as an approach to any issue, including foreign policy, through the prism of internal political struggle, Valdai Club expert Dmitry Suslov writes. US foreign policy is increasingly becoming a platform for the struggle between Democrats and Republicans. The only decisions which will be adopted with relative ease are those where there is consensus between the parties. There are very few such issues, but confrontation with Russia is among them. The intensification of the political struggle in the United States will do nothing to put an end to the American policy of containing Russia.
The impeachment of Donald Trump will not result in his expulsion from office. The majority-Republican Senate will no doubt oppose the decision made by the House of Representatives. Any collusion between rogues within the Republican establishment and the Democrats in the Senate against Trump is completely ruled out: at present, the president enjoys the support of more than 90% of his party members. If any of the Republican senators support Trump’s impeachment, this will mean that they will lose face in the eyes of their own voters and not be re-elected.
Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to say that the imminent verdict of the Senate would be a definite victory for the incumbent president and a defeat for the Democrats. The situation is less clear.
On the one hand, a negative Senate vote will allow Trump – as with Robert Mueller’s investigation in March this year — to argue that the Democrats’ impeachment procedure had always been a “witch hunt” and a means of political point-scoring aimed at reversing the results of 2016 presidential election.
Moreover, the whole situation around so-called Ukrainegate, of which impeachment is a part, has already weakened the position of Joseph Biden, who was seen as Trump’s main rival in the upcoming elections. Now Biden seems unlikely to be able to win Democratic primaries.
On the other hand, the impeachment decision by the House of Representatives could weaken Trump in the 2020 elections. Democrats from the very beginning understood that this decision would not stand a chance of passing the Senate, and had completely different goals than removing Trump from power and seeing Michael Pence become president in accordance with the Constitution.
First, they sought to win over undecided voters in the swing states (Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and some others), which, as a rule, determine the outcome of the US presidential election. It is worth recalling that Trump’s victory in 2016 was largely due to the fact that Hillary Clinton was so unpopular that undecided voters in the swing states either did not come to the polls or voted for independent candidates, but Trump’s supporters came and voted for him, which allowed him to gain the majority of electors in key states. To prevent this from happening again in 2020 is the Democrats’ main task. So, undecided voters must be convinced that they must vote for any Democratic candidate, just to prevent Trump from gaining a majority in individual swing states. While impeachment may not convince the die-hard Republicans that Trump is a criminal who believes abusing power in his personal political interests, it can convince undecided voters. For them, voting in 2020 for a candidate who has been impeached by the House of Representatives may be too much.
Second, the goal of the Democrats was, again, on the eve of the 2020 elections, to decisively decouple from Trump, to send a clear signal to both the Americans and the world community that the Democratic Party strongly disagrees with what the current president is doing and that there is another America – an “enlightened,” rather than pro-Trump one. And the world only has to wait a little before this “enlightened" America is back. This really weakens Trump’s position in the international arena: now for the heads of state, until the last day of his tenure in the White House, he will be the impeached president – and this has happened only three times in the history of the United States.
Is a second impeachment procedure against Trump possible after the inevitable Senate verdict of acquittal? Before November 2020, it is extremely unlikely. However, if Trump wins the upcoming elections, but the Republican Party catastrophically loses the Senate, a repeated impeachment cannot be ruled out.
In any case, the impeachment, for which no Republican voted in the House of Representatives, deepens the political split in the United States and prolongs the paralysis of its political system. It will be paralysed at least until the beginning of 2020: from now on, even a dialogue between the White House and the House of Representatives will be impossible, not to mention some constructive interaction. Relations between the Democrats and the Republicans have entered into a state of open confrontation.
Finally, the impeachment procedure became a kind of a red line that was crossed regarding the state of the US political system as a whole. Using a tool provided for in the most exceptional cases for the sake of election campaigning moves the crisis to a completely new level. A fight without rules begins, where anything goes. And this, in essence, is a war – so far, of course, not a hot one. But that is the limit. Without a fundamental renewal of the party-political landscape, and changes in the political platforms and ideologies of both parties, the country may be on the verge of an existential crisis.