The first line in the obituary of President Donald Trump has been written. Although virtually a fact that will not be removed, a portion of the legacy of the US president took shape on Wednesday when he became the third president in the history of the United States to be sent impeached by the House of Representatives.
The two impeachment charges that were passed virtually in partisan blocs stand out as a constitutional reproach that will accompany Trump even though he tries to trivialize their meaning and use them to boost his re-election campaign.
“It will be impossible to analyze his presidency without touching the political trial. It is permanently linked to his record, ”said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “Trump is now part of the conversation about the misuse of presidential authority. Ukraine will be your Watergate. Ukraine will be your Lewinsky. ”
The history books will place Trump in the same section where Bill Clinton appears, tried 21 years ago for lying under oath about a sexual relationship with White House Fellow Monica Lewinsky, and Andrew Johnson, who was prosecuted 151 years ago by challenging the Congress on Reconstruction. Richard Nixon, who avoided the political trial by submitting his resignation during the Watergate investigation, is also there.
Trump himself is aware of the impact that the political trial could cause to his legacy.
In recent months, his allies have seen him furious over that simple possibility, taking the current process more as a personal attack and an attempt to delegitimize his presidency than as a trial of his behaviour. In fact, the president declared days ago that he assumed “zero” responsibility for the political trial process.
“Few people in such a high position could have endured or passed this test,” Trump wrote in a bitter 46-page letter addressed to the president of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, on the eve of the vote. “You do not know, nor do you care, the great harm and pain that has caused the loving and wonderful members of my family.”
The letter, full of exclamation marks, random capitalization and a large number of claims, presented the president as the victim of an unjust political attack. “Within 100 years, when people remember this matter, I want them to understand and learn from it so that it never happens again to another president,” he wrote.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham admitted that Trump was not happy with the result. “The president has said many times that this is not something he necessarily wants in his resume,” he told ABC.
Since Republicans have control of the Senate, Trump’s acquittal during his trial next January is virtually guaranteed.
The president assured that the public repercussions to his political judgment could help him to fan his loyal supporters and to attract more independent to his cause. He made fun of conducting a triumphant tour after the verdict: “the innocence tour”, similar to “the thank-you tour” he made during the 2016 presidential transition.
Presidential historian Jon Meacham said the political trial will make Trump the “first insurgent president in the history of the United States.” He compared the partisanship of the moment to nineteenth-century tribalism that surrounded Johnson and Reconstruction, requiring that a divided nation “evaluate what is said instead of simply congratulating the person who says it.”
With a unique ability to attract attention, Trump imposed himself on his adopted Republican Party by transforming him into his image even while challenging his conventionalism. He excited his base of supporters with his provocative style and aggressive speeches using his combative Twitter account to fight with his political rivals and dispute from the beginning the accusations of foreign electoral interference during the investigation of the special prosecutor Robert Mueller on Russia.
Although Trump left that episode with his political authority intact, the history of Ukraine surprised the White House by the speed with which it seized Washington. The president resorted to the same tactic – deny, delay, accuse – but could not avoid an investigation of political judgment at the hands of the Democrats who control the Lower House.
Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to the president, rejected the notion that Trump believes his legacy was stained by political judgment.
“No, you don’t think so,” said Conway. “He sees it as a stain on the legacy of those who have focused and done everything possible to dismiss it.”
While Clinton apologized for his behavior and Nixon resigned, Trump has remained adamant by sticking to his argument that he had a “perfect” telephone conversation with the president of Ukraine. Trump and many of his defenders in the Republican Party rejected a long list of testimonies about Trump’s attempts to pressure Kiev to investigate his possible electoral rival Joe Biden.
During a rally in Michigan that began just minutes after the Lower House began its historic vote, Trump tried to downplay the spot on his record.
“It is a light political trial. With Richard Nixon, I could see it as a very dark time,” Trump said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m having fun, but I also know that we have a large group of people supporting us in the Republican Party.”
The president’s approval rating remained virtually unchanged during the political trial investigation, aided by his combative personality and populism.
The extraordinary polarization around the political trial is not new, but the fierce partisanship on this occasion was highlighted by a unique aspect of the moment: Trump seeks re-election, while Clinton and Nixon were in the middle of their second term at the time when They faced the threat of impeachment.
The result of the election day could alter the way in which the political trial will be remembered.
“Donald Trump will now be a synonym for political judgment. There is no way to promote it as something to show off. It’s a shame medal, ”said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.
“But, if he wins, somehow the political trial will look a little smaller. It would mean that he challenged him and transformed the Republican Party in his own image and kept him loyal.”
The keys to the trial: Could start in January
Two-thirds of the votes in the Senate are needed.
* AP Agency