I have said it before in the age of Trump and I will say it again: America is in uncharted territory.
Never before has the drama of a presidential impeachment in Washington unfolded against the backdrop of a presidential re-election campaign.
Impeachments, despite their legal grounding in the U.S. Constitution, are inherently political. Republicans led the charge against Bill Clinton, and now we have Democrats filing articles of impeachment against President Trump.
Add in the belligerent, vindictive tone of a Trump campaign and the result is a witch’s brew that could prove toxic. In short, it is likely to get very nasty around here.
The House of Representatives has already completed its inquiry into whether Donald Trump abused his presidential powers by asking the President of Ukraine to investigate a political rival — this, at the same time much-needed military aid to Kyiv was placed on hold.
Trump says he did nothing wrong — that he never linked the aid to his request for an inquiry into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, who once sat on the board of directors of a Ukrainian energy company.
While focusing on this one area of possible abuse of power, the Democrats have chosen to keep the actual charges against the president narrow. But get them out of the hearing room, away from formal deliberations, and they are likely to point to a pattern of behavior on the part of Donald Trump that they say can best be described as deep-rooted corruption.
In some ways it is reminiscent of the Clinton impeachment twenty years ago. Here, too, the actual articles of impeachment focused on one offense — in this case, the fact Bill Clinton lied under oath about an extra-marital affair.
The Senate then held a trial on the charges approved by the House and found they did not warrant removal from office — a scenario that is also likely to play out in the case of President Trump, given his strong base of support among members of the Republican majority in the upper body of Congress.
And then there is this — the public relations of an American impeachment.
Clinton tried to burnish his image throughout the whole process by, well, looking presidential — focusing on appearing busy with the nation’s business both at home and abroad.
In that respect, Trump has tried to follow Bill Clinton’s lead — a rather ironic move, some might say, given his disdain for his 2016 election rival, Hillary Clinton.
The 45th President of the United States has been busy lately touring factories, tweeting about the economy, and even traveling to Afghanistan to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with American troops.
As Phillip Rucker put it in The Washington Post:
“Sure, Trump has been consumed by the impeachment proceedings, popping off daily, if not hourly about what he dubs ‘a hoax.’ But he and his aides also have staged photo opportunities and public events designed to showcase the president on the job — a strategy one year out from the election to convince the American people that he is hard at work for them at the same time that Democrats are trying to remove him from office.”
And what better place for a photo opportunity than a reception at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II.
The occasion was NATO’s 70th anniversary summit — and Trump certainly intended to use the occasion to put a spotlight on his power and finesse on the world stage.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
When reporters and cameras were brought in to record parts of his various meetings with other leaders of the alliance, Trump turned the events into impromptu solo news conferences, taking questions on everything from impeachment to North Korea to the upcoming British national election.
In essence, he treated the people he was meeting with — including French President Emmanuel Macron, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — like props in a television show. It did not go unnoticed.
A video captured at that Buckingham Palace reception — yes, the one hosted by the Queen — appeared to show Trudeau and Macron, along with British PM Boris Johnson, laughing about those rambling Trump press conferences.
“I just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” said Trudeau, gesturing toward the ground.
Trump was not amused.
The next morning, he called the Canadian leader “two-faced” and abruptly cancelled a scheduled wrap-up session with reporters at the end of the London summit.
Maybe Donald Trump — who declared during his campaign for the White House that America had become “the laughing stock of the world” — could not handle being the brunt of such laughter himself. Or it may be that he just did not want to deal with the news media on the same day the House Judiciary Committee was holding its first impeachment hearing back in Washington.
What a split screen image that would have been!
And it should be noted that it did not take long for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign to launch a new ad built around that video of other leaders laughing at Trump at the NATO summit. The message is that now — more than ever – Americans need a steady, experienced leader with ample experience in foreign affairs who is respected abroad.
The ad has proven powerful for Biden — with 12 million hits on digital media alone in the first few days of its release.
Yes, this is the same Joe Biden that Donald Trump wants the Ukrainians to investigate, even though there is no evidence the former vice president did anything wrong.
There is a lot going on here — a lot of twists and turns to this story.
We are in uncharted territory.