As the New Year dawned, President Donald Trump’s prospects of being elected to a second term in office looked as if they were in serious trouble.
In December, he became the third president in US history to be impeached after the House charged him with abusing his power and obstructing the subsequent congressional investigation.
Economic data at the time indicated that a recession could be on its way by mid-2020, imperiling the economic prosperity that had been Trump’s strongest campaign-trail selling point.
And on January 1, the data journalists at FiveThirtyEight found that Trump had the second-lowest approval ratings of any sitting president at the start of a reelection year, with his ratings at 42.6%. (President Gerald Ford retained the title for lowest-ever approval ratings in 1976 with 39.3%.)
Just over a month in, things are looking very different.
Trump is currently having one of his best weeks ever, with crucial momentum to win in November just as the election season starts to gear up. And he has the Democrats to thank for this.
An iPhone showing the Iowa Democratic Party’s caucus reporting app on Tuesday.
The Senate on Wednesday acquitted Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, with all but one Republican senator — Mitt Romney — choosing not to convict.
Over the course of the trial Democrats exposed misconduct by the president that even some Republicans conceded constituted an abuse of power, albeit one not serious enough to warrant removal from office.
It may have also damaged his standing among independent voters, with 53% of them saying in a Fox News poll published last week that Trump should be removed from office.
But it also had the effect of galvanizing Republican support for the president, with a Gallup poll on Wednesday finding that 94% of Republicans now support the president, and the Trump campaign saying that the $46 million it raised in the last quarter largely came from Trump supporters spurred by impeachment.
Trump delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Dems embarrassed at the State of the Union
On Tuesday night, Trump also used his State of the Union address to boast of prosperity under his presidency, claiming the US economy — which has remained resilient despite projections of a downturn — was the “best it’s ever been.”
That claim was one of several inaccurate statements the president made in the address, with at least one economist saying the economy was falling short of historical highs.
Trump also attacked the Democrats as radical socialists who would ruin the American economy with vast public-expenditure programs. That certainly didn’t help Democrats, who remain mired in infighting over the direction of their party.
Because the State of the Union is not a press conference, or a debate, or a rally, Trump was able to deliver his entire speech on live television without being fact checked or challenged on the spot.
And in an unprecedented move, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up a script of his address at the end of the 80-minute address.
Republicans seized on the moment to denounce Pelosi’s act as one of petty partisanship that — they said — violated the solemnity of the occasion, and showed contempt for the American people.
Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
Iowa caucus chaos hugely embarrassed Dems
The much-anticipated first votes of the Democratic primary season, in Iowa, also descended into chaos on Monday night following the botched rollout of an app that was meant to communicate votes.
Instead of giving publicity and impetus to a prospective challenger to the president, the unexpected error allowed Trump to seize the occasion to portray the Democratic Party as being in shambles, while his campaign has used the delay to double down on conspiracies designed to exacerbate divisions within the party.
A Gallup poll released Tuesday brought more good news for the president. It found that 49% of Americans approved of the job Trump was doing. That’s higher than the approval rating President Barack Obama had at the same point in his first term.
The news cycle moves fast, and scandals are quickly forgotten, but Democrats cannot afford many more errors of the scale of those committed in the past few days if they are to dent the president’s electoral momentum.