Impeachment hurts but Teflon Trump thrives

Washington (AFP) - Impeachment is about the worst thing that can happen to a president -- unless that president is Donald Trump.

There is no question that having that historic asterisk as only the third US president ever impeached will hurt him personally.

More than any other occupant of the White House, the real estate developer and reality TV performer obsesses over his image. Trump's name and patina of glitzy success is literally a brand he sells for millions of dollars around the world.

But it's equally true that the Republican adores a good fight. And impeachment is the Olympics of Washington brawling.

"This moment is (perfect) for a person like him," said Rich Hanley, a professor of communications at Quinnipiac University.

The Democrats in the House of Representatives are excpected to vote to impeach Trump, probably on Wednesday. Then, as the president knows all too well, his Republican Party, which controls the Senate, will vote to acquit.

The outcome is likely to be as preordained as one of those absurd WWE wrestling bouts that Trump has always loved.

Which makes a perfect set-up for the showman-in-chief.

First he gets to demonize opponents, throwing around words like "treason," "crook," "crazy" and "sick." Then he declares victory and turns the entire thing into a campaign ad for his 2020 reelection.

"He's already seen the narrative arc of this particular episode of the Trump show," Hanley said.

- Inoculated by scandal -

From Andrew Johnson, who got impeached in 1868, no president has exactly enjoyed the notoriety.

Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate affair just before he could be impeached, while Bill Clinton fought bitterly to avoid being convicted by the Senate in 1999.

But Trump, a veteran of scandals, comes into the ordeal uniquely ready.

After all, he has already ridden out allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct by two dozen women over the years.

He has withstood a two year probe by a special prosecutor into whether he was wittingly or unwittingly getting election help from Russian agents.

He has brushed off accusations of using his office to benefit his real estate empire, including billeting Air Force personnel at his Scottish golf course and Vice President Mike Pence at his Irish resort.

Daily he crudely insults opponents, swears in public, and tells so many lies and exaggerations that fact checkers can barely keep up.

The list goes on.

As Trump himself said in 2016: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters."

- Owning impeachment -

The Clinton impeachment stemming from his affair with a White House intern was famously nasty -- a televised horror show that forever stained the popular Democrat's reputation.

But those days seem almost quaint alongside a Trump version supercharged by Twitter, politicized rival television coverage and a president eager to star in, produce and direct his own drama.

Far from hunkering down, Trump holds rallies to whip his base into a frenzy over the "witch hunt." He tweets his outrage dozens of times a day -- sometimes more than a 100.

"Nixon and Clinton largely stayed out of it. Trump has thrust himself into the middle of it repeatedly," said Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University. "He absolutely owns it."

It's a high-risk, high-gain tactic that fits in with Trump's entire upending of Washington.

And having "shattered" every other norm, Trump's now doing the same to impeachment, Lichtman said, presenting his Republican Party no other option than to defend him all the way.

"The real reason Republicans have to defend Donald Trump is that the only thing they're left with is Donald Trump."

So Washington may be in chaos, but Teflon Trump is thriving.

The latest poll, from Quinnipiac, showed him with 43 percent job approval. Even if that is the worst score for a president at this stage of an administration in many decades, it is Trump's personal best.

"It's a very sad thing for our country," he said last week. "But it seems to be very good for me politically."