The day Donald Trump’s presidency changed forever
No matter what happens in the next year — or even the next five years — of Donald Trump’s time in office, the first paragraph of his political obituary will contain this sentence (or something close to it): “Trump was impeached by the House on December 18, 2019, becoming only the third president in history to be so admonished.”
That the historic vote was preordained and that it was preceded by six-plus hours of name-calling, vitriol and partisan ugliness shouldn’t distract you from that basic fact. And this one: The impeachment of Trump (and subsequent Senate trial) will mark a clear fissure in his presidency, our politics and the country. In the future, we will think of the Trump presidency as “before he was impeached” and “after he was impeached.”
Now, that doesn’t mean that the historic action — and it is historic, regardless of whether you agree with it — will change much of anything day-to-day in Washington. In fact, one of the most striking things about Wednesday was how normal it all felt. Trump tweeting insults at his political opponents and quote-tweeting praise from his favorite Fox News shows. Republicans defending the President — facts be damned. Democrats insisting that they were doing the right thing, as opposed to the politically savvy thing.
For such a historic day, it all felt mundane. “It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached,” Trump joked at a campaign rally in Michigan on Wednesday night.
Maybe that’s how history always looks close up. Less memorable and glamorous — and more gritty and glum — than hindsight makes it look.
But make no mistake: This was history.
Trump, no matter what the Senate does — and the likelihood is they will vote to not remove the President sometime early next year — will have this impeachment on his permanent record and legacy. And that’s true whether or not this impeachment vote lives up to the dire predictions that both sides are making at the moment.
Obviously, if Trump is ousted from office due to blowback from voters who want to punish the party who enabled him — or he is reelected and/or Republicans retake control of the House fueled by a wave of voter discontent about Democrats’ impeachment push — then historians will cite Wednesday’s impeachment vote as a critical moment.
But, even if none of those scenarios come to pass everything after today will be seen in the light of the House’s impeachment vote. Every move Trump makes, every poll that fluctuates, everything that happens in politics between now and November 2020 will be analyzed as part of the reverberations from what happened on this one fateful night in December 2019.
That’s especially true for Trump because all of this is happening a) in his first term and b) less than a year before he faces voters in 2020. That’s a critical difference between the circumstances surrounding Trump’s impeachment and that of the president most recently impeached before him: Bill Clinton.
Clinton was nearing the end of his second term when he was impeached by the House in December 1998. While there were clear and major ripples that followed from Clinton’s impeachment — Republicans losing ground in the House in the the 1998 midterms but retaking the White House two years later — those impacts were not directly visited on Clinton’s presidency.
That won’t be the case with Trump.
And you can be absolutely sure that Trump will not put this whole impeachment thing in his rearview mirror once the Senate trial concludes — and assuming he is not removed from office. Because, um, that’s not what he does — especially when he believes he has been victimized in some way, shape or form.
Even as the House was formally impeaching him, Trump was delivering his own real-time rebuttal at a campaign rally in Michigan; “We did nothing wrong,” Trump told the crowd. “We have tremendous support in the Republican Party.”
That’s just a start. If past is prologue, Trump will bring up Wednesday’s impeachment vote daily — if not more often than that — between now and next November. And if he wins a second term, he will look to this day as the day in which that victory was rooted.
(Here’s a scary but possible thought: If Trump loses, he could claim the whole election was invalidated by the so-called “coup” that Democrats tried to pull on him — and refuse to concede.)
The point is this: No matter what happens tomorrow, next month, in 2020 or beyond, Wednesday is the day that the Trump presidency changed. For better? For worse? Those answers won’t come quickly or easily — maybe not even at the ballot box next year. But when we all look back at it, this will be the day we will remember most.