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Good week/bad week: the winners and losers in US politics

It has been a rollercoaster week for Republicans and Democrats, from the caucus chaos in Iowa to Trump’s acquittal and victory lap

It has been a rollercoaster week in US politics, starting with the voting debacle in Iowa and carrying on through Donald Trump’s divisive State of the Union address, his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial and his extraordinary victory lap in a triumphalist speech at the White House.

But who are the losers and winners from a dramatic few days for Republicans and Democrats?

5/5: Donald Trump

A swaggering and aggressive US president called his speech at the White House on Thursday a “celebration” – and well he might. He was coming to the end of a week in which he had spent 80 minutes making the case for his re-election on primetime TV in his State of the Union address and had been acquitted in his impeachment trial – with only one Republican breaking ranks to vote against him. A Gallup poll put Trump’s approval rating at 49%, the highest level for that survey since 2017. And on top of that the Democratic primary race got off to a disastrously shambolic start in Iowa. Holding up a newspaper front page (despite having called the mainstream media the enemy of the people) that read “Trump acquitted”, the president told his White House crowd: “Let me take that home; maybe we’ll frame it. It’s the only good headline I’ve ever had in the Washington Post.” His speech sounded like a preview of the one he might make on 4 November should he win the election.

4/5: Pete Buttigieg

If anyone managed to wring any momentum out of the mess in Iowa, it was the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who more or less declared victory before the results were in and went on to grab as much of the spotlight as possible. Did he even win? With almost 100% of the vote in, Buttigieg is only 0.09% ahead of socialist rival Bernie Sanders in the delegate count, and Sanders is ahead of the young pretender, who just turned 38, in the popular vote. But the veteran Vermont senator, 78, will now have to wait until the New Hampshire primary next week to attempt to grab his full share of the glory.

3/5: Mike Bloomberg

The billionaire former mayor of New York’s decision to sit out the early states and instead blanket California with advertising seems partially vindicated. With the usual momentum conferred on the winner of the Iowa caucuses blunted, a strong showing from Bloomberg in the array of populous states voting on Super Tuesday (3 March) is bound to launch a thousand thinkpieces asking whether Bloomberg can elbow aside Joe Biden and Buttigieg and unite the centre. Feel queasy about a rich man buying the race? Bloomberg has an answer. “Someone said: ‘Are you spending too much money?’ and I said: ‘I’m spending money to get rid of Donald Trump.’ And the guy said: ‘Spend more.’ ”

2/5: Joe Biden

Barack Obama’s former vice-president went into the week as the frontrunner in the Democratic race and still leads most national polls and match-ups with Trump. But coming fourth in Iowa – a result he called a “gut punch” – has seriously dented his pitch that he is the most electable candidate. If he underperforms again in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Biden could find supporters and donors abandoning him for Buttigieg or Bloomberg.

1/5: Nancy Pelosi

The Democrats Democratic leader in the House of Representatives took a lot of persuading to agree to impeach Trump, only doing so when the strength of the evidence in the Ukraine case became overwhelming. She initiated the process knowing it was almost certain Trump would be acquitted because of his party’s majority in the Senate, but hoping to put his impeachment on the record for posterity and damage him ahead of November’s election. The latter is very much up for debate.

And on top of that, Pelosi – usually so poised in her dealings with Trump as speaker of the House – risked losing the moral high ground when she ripped up her copy of his State of the Union speech on live TV, leading the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to liken her to Lisa Simpson. (Critics said he hadn’t understood the episode in question.)

0/5: the state of Iowa

Iowa was already facing criticism that as a small, 90% white, largely rural state it had a disproportionate impact on the Democratic race even before Monday’s debacle, in which apps failed and telephone lines were overwhelmed, meaning that even by Friday Democrats were unable to say who had won the first contest of primary season. In the results the party eventually released, vote tallies did not add up, and figures contained inconsistencies and errors, according to the New York Times, leading the national party chair to demand a review “to assure public confidence in the results”.

Conspiracy theories raged that the party was deliberately sabotaging Sanders’ chances – and the Trump campaign gleefully fanned the flames. If the Iowa state party had deliberately set out to undermine its own place in the primary hierarchy it couldn’t have done better than this.

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