Hello and welcome to another big day in American politics.
It’s fair to say Donald Trump is probably having a pretty good week. Last night he got 80 minutes to make his case for a second term on primetime TV with his State of the Union address, as the Democrats continued to struggle to publish results from their first primary contest on Iowa on Monday.
Later today, Trump will be acquitted in his impeachment trial – and despite several Republican senators admitting his conduct in holding back military aid for Ukraine as he asked its president to investigate Democrat Joe Biden was inappropriate, perhaps only one will vote to convict him. Meanwhile a Gallup poll has his approval rating at 49%, the highest level for that survey since 2017.
Here’s a rundown:
As we speak just over 70% of the vote is in, and former small-town mayor Pete Buttigieg is slightly ahead of socialist senator Bernie Sanders, with his liberal rival Elizabeth Warren in third and Joe Biden trailing in fourth – a very worrying result for the centrist former vice-president.
It’s not clear exactly when the Iowa Democratic party will release the rest of the results, following the shambles on Monday night when technical problems with an app caused their reporting system to collapse.
This looks like a good result for Buttigieg, who can claim that he’s a serious, top-tier candidate. He will now argue that Biden is not as electable as he seems on paper and that the centrist Democratic establishment should instead unite around him. But he has very little support among non-white voters and it’s not clear he’ll be able to pick up sufficient votes in the bigger and more diverse states that are coming up in the next few weeks.
Sanders – who is leading in the popular vote, although not the delegate count – will be disappointed if he doesn’t end up coming first, although a strengthened Buttigieg might be good for him in the long term if the centrist vote ends up splitting three ways between Buttigieg, Biden and Mike Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who is joining the race next month. Bloomberg doubled his spending on TV ads in the wake of the debacle yesterday, clearly sensing an opening.
The focus moves now to New Hampshire, where Sanders has a clear lead. Tonight at 8pm ET CNN will hold the first of two town-hall style candidates’ debates, the first one featuring Biden, Warren, and businessmen Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer.
You can see all the Iowa results so far and watch the rest of them eventually come in with our results tracker here.
At about 4pm ET today, Donald Trump will in all likelihood become the third US president to be acquitted after an impeachment trial.
Dashing Democratic hopes, moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have both now confirmed they will not vote to convict Trump. That leaves only Mitt Romney, the former presidential candidate, as the one possible vote against the president.
It’s hard to say at present whether the impeachment trial has been a net gain or a net loss for Trump. Democrats may feel that if even half a percentage point ends up being knocked off Trump’s vote tally in November by impeachment, that’s a success. Trump and the Republicans will continue to make the case that the impeachment process was an attempt by the Democrats to overturn Americans’ democratic choice in 2016, and take away their democratic choice this year. Polling so far has been inconclusive.
State of the union
Trump’s re-election strategy is thought to be all about riling up his base against the Democrats, and his State of the Union speech last night seemed both to encourage and to illustrate the bitter divisions in American political life. “Each year feels progressively worse and more hopelessly polarised than the one before,” my colleague David Smith wrote. Trump hyped up the strength of the economy, and focused on immigration, abortion, guns, reglion, and judicial appointments in ways guaranteed to delight the right and infuriate the Democrats, with his usual disregard for factual accuracy.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ leader in the House, ripped up her copy of the speech as she stood behind Trump in full view of the cameras. Other Democrats walked out. Anti-gun campaigner Fred Guttenberg was thrown out for heckling. Trump bestowed the presidential medal of freedom on rightwing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh live then and there. Republicans chanted “four more years”.
“The state of our Union is stronger than ever before,” Trump intoned. Everything about this event suggested the opposite.
We’ll be covering all this and more throughout the day right here.