By Gwynne Dyer,
On Wednesday the US Senate acquitted President Donald Trump of both charges in his impeachment trial on a straight partisan vote, with only two members of the 53-strong Republican majority even voting to hear more evidence. But this doesn’t mean that the other 51 really think Trump is innocent. They may be cowards, but they’re not stupid.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander acknowledged that Trump’s attempt to blackmail Ukraine’s president into launching a fake investigation that would smear Joe Biden, then the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was “inappropriate.” In fact, he had only voted to shut the trial down because “There is no need for more evidence to prove what has already been proven.”
It just wasn’t a grave enough offence to justify impeachment, Alexander said, and besides, there is an election next November. “I believe that the constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday,” he concluded.
Alexander is right about that, but it means that Trump can only be brought to book if the Democrats nominate a candidate who can actually beat him. Does such an animal actually exist? The Iowa caucuses, shambolic though they were, have cast some light on this question.
If you think a middle-of-the-road candidate is the best bet to beat Trump, it is becoming clear that Joe Biden, the early front-runner, is not the right man. Pete Buttigieg came first overall in the Iowa caucuses with 27% of the votes; Biden trailed far behind with 16%.
If you think that only a radical break with the Democrats’ traditional MOR stance can beat Trump, then you also have two choices: left-wing Bernie Sanders (who actually says the word ‘socialism’ in public), or centre-left Elizabeth Warren (who at least doesn’t flinch when Bernie says the s-word).
Again, however, there was a gulf in Iowa between the two more radical candidates: Sanders got 25% of the vote, Warren only 15%. These numbers may change slightly when Iowa finally sorts out the mess in the vote-counting, but probably not by much.
So let us assume that the real choice, after a few more primaries, is starting to look like it’s between Sanders and Buttigieg. Which of these men is likelier to beat Trump?
Well, there’s a problem with Sanders, and it’s not his age. (He would be 79 if he took office next January). Think: who in politics does he most resemble?
What other left-wing politician in an English-speaking country spent decades in the political wilderness, trying to sell hot-gospel socialism to a largely inattentive audience?
Who then suddenly caught the attention of the nation’s despairing youth, trapped in a stagnant, low-wage economy, and built a national following that suddenly delivered him onto the main stage?
And who led his party into a national election on a radical left-wing programme – and went down to the worst electoral defeat it had suffered in half a century?
Jeremy Corbyn, the English Bernie Sanders, that’s who. It was Corbyn who put Boris Johnson, Britain’s mini-Trump, back in office for another five years with a huge majority in parliament. That’s not the sort of outcome the Democrats want.
So what will the elders of the Democratic Party do if they find that Sanders, not Buttigieg, is the popular favourite going into Democratic Convention in July. They will probably throw their support behind Michael Bloomberg, the ultimate MOR candidate.
It could work. He’s far richer than Trump.