Wow! What an extraordinary week in national and local politics. We watched the fiasco in the Iowa caucuses last Monday (which further muddied the Democratic presidential nomination contest), the president’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday (with Nancy Pelosi ripping it up) and, finally, the end of the impeachment process with a Senate vote to acquit on Wednesday (highlighted by a surprising vote by Mitt Romney to convict). We look at ramifications nationally and locally.
Utah’s two senators split on impeachment, with Romney being the only Republican to vote to toss the president out of office. What are the ramifications for Romney and the rest of the Utah delegation? Has impeachment hurt or helped Trump’s reelection prospects?
Pignanelli: “We have known for the last three years this is an important election. But on Day One the Democrats in Des Moines shanked it. They can’t even count farmers holding their hands up in a high school gym.” — Stephen Colbert
The constitutional process of impeachment observed and endured by Americans mirrors a root canal procedure — painful, but soon forgotten. Because of recent events the nation was reminded of the not too distant fact President William Clinton was impeached … then acquitted. The late ’90s vibrant economy and his strong personality overshadowed such recollections.
Therefore, history suggests the impeachment proceedings alone will not impede Trump’s reelection. By autumn, dynamics including the economy, results of other investigations and the Democratic nominee will determine the election results. This also means in the short term Romney will receive intense criticism from local and national politicos, but different controversies will soon dominate conversations. The recent proceedings will evolve into an historical footnote.
A long-term beneficiary from the Senate trial could be Congressman Ben McAdams. He can use Romney’s vote to deflect the anticipated attacks for his support of the impeachment articles.
Impeachment proceedings generated moderate interest among Americans who will unlikely willingly reflect about it in the future — just like a root canal.
Webb: The big outcome is that Trump survived impeachment stronger than ever and will stay in office and face voters in November. Personally, I think that’s a good thing for the country. Trump’s actions were not “perfect,” but didn’t rise to the level of requiring his removal from office. I disagree with Romney on this and agree with Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and John Curtis.
I want to give Romney the benefit of the doubt and not ascribe his vote to sour grapes over Trump rejecting him as secretary of state, or his general loathing of Trump (remember Romney’s blistering criticism of Trump on moral grounds in 2016).
In explaining his vote, Romney repeatedly referred to his strong religious convictions, saying his “oath before God demanded” his vote to convict. Some Utahns I’ve talked to felt Romney wrapped himself in their religion to justify his vote — and they didn’t appreciate it.
I don’t think Romney intended that. I assume he acknowledges that members of his same church, and other religions, just as devout as he is, having taken the same oath before God, reached an entirely different conclusion. There is no religious martyr here.
Some also questioned Romney’s moralizing, given his inconsistencies (some called it flip-flopping) on a variety of positions when he was seeking the GOP presidential nomination, in contrast to his positions when he served and sought office in liberal Massachusetts.
Going forward, I don’t think Romney has totally burned all bridges with his colleagues or the administration. But I think he will have to work harder than ever to effectively represent Utah.
Trump’s lengthy SOTU speech was crafted for social media viral moments as he welcomed numerous guests in tender anecdotes and boasted about the economy. Was this speech, delivered under an impeachment cloud, effective for the president?
Pignanelli: I watched every minute. This incredibly choreographed entertainment event alternated between frustrating, moving, shocking and stirring. The hyperpartisanship of the speech (which should not have surprised anyone) was matched by similar extreme emotions in the audience — especially the indefensible antics of the house speaker.
Trump served notice that he is running hard for reelection by not only appealing to his base, but also targeting minority communities. The hope is to raise support among them, while assuring suburban voters that he does care about diverse Americans. Thus the 80-minute presentation was classic Trump — which was his intention and strategy.
Webb: Trump managed to shore up his base while creating some touching moments. He took genuinely conservative positions, without apology, while infuriating his Democratic opponents. It was not a speech designed to bring the country together, but that wasn’t even a possibility in the current environment.
Will the debacle in Iowa’s caucuses impact Utah’s party caucus system?
Pignanelli: Caucus supporters — of either party — love the power their small group holds and will defend this ancient anachronistic holdover from a bygone era regardless of its obvious inefficiencies.
Webb: Iowa was a big embarrassment for the Democrats. Utah’s dual-track nomination process (not applicable to the presidential race) is much better.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: email@example.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.