Now that Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial has begun, we’re being reminded of two divergent realities. First, Mitch McConnell isn’t getting to pull off the complete sham of a trial he’d been promising, because too many of his Senate Republicans are already too nervous about facing voter backlash. Second, even though the trial will not go the way that McConnell and Donald Trump are hoping, Trump will still almost certainly be acquitted at the end of it.
Even with an acquittal, the Senate impeachment trial will still end up being a body blow to Donald Trump. Why? He’s already too far behind, and the clock is ticking. The November 2020 election is still a long way away. Plenty can happen between now and then. But as of right now, Trump’s roughly 40% approval rating gives him roughly 0% chance of winning in 2020. If the election were held today, he’d lose badly. The election is obviously not being held today. But Trump has less than ten months to vastly improve his approval rating, or he’ll lose.
We’ve watched Trump try and fail to boost his 2020 odds by conspiring with Ukraine, which blew up in his face. We’ve watched him bet big on a DOJ Inspector General report that ended up going against him. We’ve watched Trump try and fail to use the House impeachment proceedings to gain new supporters. He tried to use military conflict with Iran to boost his popularity, but he couldn’t pull it off. Trump is starting to run out of time and opportunities. The Senate trial, being conducted by his Republican allies, is an opportunity that he must take advantage of to boost his popularity.
But with the way things are now going, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Donald Trump emerges from this Senate impeachment trial with an improved approval rating. Current polling shows that about half of Americans want Trump removed, and about two-thirds of Americans want a legitimate trial with witnesses. That means about one-sixth of Americans haven’t turned against him, but do want to see a fair trial. If Trump gets his sham trial, some of these folks will likely turn against him. And if witnesses do testify against him, even more of these people will turn against him. On the other hand, Trump’s acquittal won’t gain him a single new supporter, because everyone is already expecting his own party to acquit him.
Donald Trump needs to use this Senate impeachment trial to boost his approval rating by at least five points if he wants to get into contention for 2020. If his approval rating stays the same or goes down as a result of this trial, then it’s a major loss for him, even if he is acquitted by his own party in the end. It’s important to keep these realistic parameters in mind as the trial plays out.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report