2019 saw Donald Trump’s turbulent presidency put to the test once again.
After surviving the highly anticipated Russian probe he soon found himself the target of impeachment, while also trying to negotiate trade deals on multiple fronts, the biggest with America’s economic rival, China.
All this as he launched his campaign for re-election in 2020. Our US Correspondent Kevin McAleese looks back at an eventful year.
For Donald Trump it was the witch hunt of the century, democrats and his opponents believed the Mueller report would signal the beginning of the end of his Presidency.
The reality of the 448 page report was far less clear cut, the special counsel finding no collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, but unable to clear the president for Obstruction of Justice.
“The Mueller report was a crashing disaster. It was unreadable, it was written in legalize, it was over 400 pages long. It took no stand on anything despite all the damning evidence that it amassed. Instead of a mountain he produced a molehill,” says Allan Lichtman who is a Political Historian at an American University.
However, Trump’s victory lap was cut short by a Whistle blower, suddenly Trump was facing impeachment after the contents of a phone call revealed he had asked Ukraine’s President to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden
“Once the transcript of that call came out impeachment, or at least an inquiry, was inevitable. And it was all gratuitously brought down on Trump by himself,” says Lichtman.
Trump defended his July call as ‘perfect’ but for House Speaker Democrat Nancy Pelosi it was a step too far and for only the fourth time in history, a US president was the subject of an impeachment investigation.
“I’m announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry,” says Nancy Pelosi who is the US House Speaker.
Democrats moved fast, hours of public testimony followed, during which republicans united in solid defence of Trump just as democrats called out what they saw as his gross abuse of office.
“There is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who believes they are above the law,” says Adam Schiff who is the House Intelligence Committee Chairman.
The Democrats arguing the President used his public office for personal and political gain, by withholding nearly $400 million dollars of aid to Ukraine in return for an investigation into Joe Biden, a potential opponent for Trump in the next US election.
Acquitted or removed, ultimately congress will decide. PTC Trump’s presidential future rests with the Senate where his impeachment trial will be heard and where the republican majority is expected to acquit America’s 45th President
Impeachment aside, Democrats are determined to topple trump at the ballot box with over a dozen candidates still in race to be the party nominee for the November race.
“I promise you, we’re going to win this race. We’re going to beat Donald Trump,” says Joe Biden who is the Former US Vice President.
They’ve been campaigning and debating for more than six months. But voters are still split over whether there’s a Democrat strong enough to deny the President another four years in the White House.
“There are several that I agree with, I don’t know, with such a large field it’s difficult.”
“I think he’s lost the faith and trust of the American people.”
“I think he has a strong base and I think he has a strong following.”
“I’m going to be one of them that votes for him. I think he’s done a great job, he’s a businessman, he didn’t have anybody to pay for his election, he had his own money and Congress just don’t like that.”
“I would not like to see him get re-elected. I hope he doesn’t get re-elected. Will he? I have no idea,” what some voters had to say.
The polls suggest the next election could come down to just a few swing states.
“The biggest thing for Democrats right now is who can win? Are they going to go in a liberal direction or are they going to go with a moderate candidate, who could potentially peel back some of these voters that President Trump won in places like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania?” asks Julie Pace the Washington Bureau Chief.
The Democrats first big test comes in February in Iowa, the start of each state choosing which Democrat they want to take on Trump in November’s election.
Trump, while attacking his potential democrat opponents, has been encouraging Americans to focus on a record-setting stock market and surging job numbers but not everyone is convinced by Trump’s strong economy claims.
“What they don’t realize is the economy’s not good. The growth numbers are okay, but we’re borrowing a trillion dollars a year in order to get $400 billion a year in growth. Which is catastrophic and you can’t have zero interest rates while saying your economy is great for ever either. So we’re doing all the unsustainable stuff. We’re staying up all night on caffeine, sugar packets, some methamphetamine and a whole lot of dreams, and eventually the morning comes and that’s going to be the story of the US economy,” says Max Wolff who is the Managing Director of Multivariate.
It was also a year gripped by the uncertainty of the US-China trade war. More tariffs and counter-tariffs were unleashed as the sides struggled for meaningful breakthroughs. Trump’s message to rural America, hardest hit by the dispute, was consistent: short term pain for long-term gain.
“If I have to take a little hit to help solve this problem, I’m willing to do that. I think it’s in the best interest of our country and that will be in the best interest of my farm and my family down the road,” says Lucus Heinen who is a Kansas farmer.
The Trump Administration says it’s in no rush to put pen to paper with Beijing, but the President knows a convincing deal in an election year would be a major policy-win.
“Trump understands that he needs to keep the economy going and that is the number one thing that will keep a President’s popularity up. It doesn’t matter where the economy is September-October it’s where it is in that first part of the year and hence how people’s expectations or feelings about the economy are formed at that period of time. So the election moves him to having to get a deal,” says Steve Blitz who is the Chief US Economist at TS Lombard.
Trade wars, impeachment trial and a US election. 2020 is set to be a blockbuster year.