A couple of aphorisms come to mind when looking at the Ukraine
whistleblower scandal. At its core, the scandal is about unintended consequences
and deception weaving a tangled web. While there have been many unintended
consequences of President Trump’s request for a favor from the president of
Ukraine, one of the most unintended will be if the scandal boots Elizabeth Warren
to the presidency. At this point, that looks like a real possibility.
In theory, Donald Trump’s intent on requesting that the Ukraine
investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, was to make the elder Biden, the Democratic
frontrunner, a weaker candidate in the general election. That strategy may be
While there has so far been no proof of wrongdoing by Joe Biden,
the standard of evidence is much weaker in the court of public opinion than in
the court of law. Hunter’s seemingly shady connections with Ukrainian and
Chinese companies taint his father, even if hard evidence of corruption is hard
to come by. As conservative sites and the mainstream media dig into Hunter’s
business dealings, there is no way of knowing what will turn up even though statements
by Ukrainian prosecutors are glowing enough that they might even spur one
“Complete and Total EXONERATION [sic].”
Nevertheless, as an elected official, Biden (as well as
Trump) should have followed the Apostle Paul’s advice to “abstain
from all appearance of evil.” Now the appearance of impropriety threatens the
electoral ambitions of both men.
If the scandal causes Joe Biden to slide in the polls, Elizabeth
Warren is the obvious beneficiary. As Warren climbed in the polls over the past
few weeks, the buzz was that Republicans wanted her to be the Democratic nominee
because they thought she would be easier to beat, especially after prominent Wall
Street donors said that they wouldn’t back a Warren candidacy.
However, rooting for a bad opposition candidate is risky
business. Many Republicans wanted to run against Barack Obama in 2008 because
they thought he was unelectable. In fact, Rush Limbaugh urged Republicans to
cross party lines as part of “Operation Chaos” in the 2008 primary to support
Obama because he was “the weakest”
of the Democratic candidates that year. Likewise, in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign
tried to pump
up Donald Trump in an effort to weaken the eventual nominee. Are you sensing
a pattern here? In this day and age, it seems that no candidate is truly
unelectable, especially when faced with a weak establishment candidate.
Trump’s plan to weaken Biden backfired when the
whistleblower complaint became public knowledge and weakened the president’s
own position. Polling shows that there is widespread disapproval of Trump’s actions and support for impeachment
has surged since the details of the phone call with Ukrainian President
Zelensky have emerged. While there is still a long way to go until the
election, even the non-Native American senator from Massachusetts is leading
Trump in the polls and it is far from clear that the president could win
against her, especially after months of yet another investigation and more unhinged
tweets tarnish his image even further.
Of course, an Elizabeth Warren presidency is not a fait
accompli. Trump could beat the odds (again) and pull off an upset. There is
also the chance that Trump’s re-election campaign will be derailed by either
his resignation or removal from office by the Senate. Trump’s newfound weakness
could also provide an opening for a Republican primary challenger. A different
Republican would stand a much better chance against Warren.
It is also possible that the plan to discredit Biden will
Hill reported yesterday that Biden’s favorability has not dropped since the
onset of the scandal. In contrast, Trump’s approval has slid over the past week
by more than a point in the FiveThirtyEight polling average, with some polls showing his as low as 39 percent. The flip
side is that Warren does continue to rise in the Democratic
primary polls while Biden has slipped.
There is no way to know for sure how it will play out, but
the Ukraine scandal has upended the 2020 plans for both sides. If Elizabeth
Warren becomes president, Donald Trump’s decision to ask Ukraine to dig up dirt
on Joe Biden will have played a pivotal role.