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Warren will come up trumps in impeachment scenario

But her Democratic rival Joe Biden's woes could only worsen with the eruption of "Ukrainegate".

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren at a Town Hall at Keene State College on Sept 25.

Then US vicepresident Joe Biden (right) tours with his son Hunter Biden (left) in Beijing, China, in 2013.

President Trump, having a quiet moment alone.

IT WAS coincidence that Elizabeth Warren took the lead in the Democratic presidential race on the first day of the Donald Trump impeachment process. It was nevertheless a poetic one.

Ms Warren is running against a "rigged system" that serves the wealthy elites. She warns that the global marriage of "authoritarianism and corrupt capitalism" is pushing America down the slippery slope to kleptocracy.

The fact Mr Trump could be impeached for exactly what Ms Warren is running against is something of a windfall. It is pure bonus that Ms Warren's chief rival, Joe Biden, is also caught in the crossfire.

It may be too early to cement Ms Warren as the frontrunner. It is not too soon to say that Mr Biden's campaign is faltering badly. This week, Quinnipiac showed Ms Warren two points ahead of Mr Biden nationally.

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In August, Mr Biden had a 13 percentage point lead. Moreover, polls show Ms Warren beating Mr Biden in the crucial early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Ms Warren also beat Mr Biden on calling for Mr Trump's impeachment earlier this week. Mr Biden only halfheartedly endorsed impeachment for the first time after the process had been launched on Tuesday.

Events could quickly slip away from him. Ms Warren's campaign argues that in today's world there is little difference between domestic and foreign policy. Corruption is where the two meet. The world's autocrats have long had a symbiotic relationship with the West's financial centres, particularly New York and London.

Kleptocrats go there to launder their money. They tend to use the same offshore havens as western elites, such as Panama and the Cayman Islands. They are also serviced by the same law and accountancy firms. If the US wishes to defend democracy around the world, Ms Warren argues, it should start by cleaning up its own system. That includes transparency in financial asset movements.

Ms Warren's foreign policy is the kind of populism that polls well with American voters. It also offers an intuitive critique of today's plutocratic world. The West's middle classes may be feeling jingoistic. But global elites move in one another's circles. They tend to donate to the same causes, such as Ivy League universities, and for the same reasons: to look good and curry favour on behalf of their offspring. Ms Warren is disliked by Wall Street. But its disdain for her is tinged with respect. Her world view is larger than simply opposing Mr Trump.

Mr Biden, by contrast, continues to insist that Mr Trump is an aberration, as opposed to an emblem of what has gone sour in the world. The eruption of "Ukrainegate" is only likely to deepen Mr Biden's difficulties.

The more pressure Mr Trump feels over allegations that he tried to leverage US foreign aid for his own political gain, the more he will try to deflect the heat to Mr Biden. It is absurd to claim Mr Biden made millions from Ukraine and China, as Mr Trump keeps repeating. There is no evidence that Mr Biden has profited financially from his near half-century in US politics.

But the appearance that the former vice-president's son, Hunter Biden, made hay with his father's name means that some of Mr Trump's verbiage will stick. It will also force Mr Biden on to the defensive at a time when his campaign badly needs to change the subject. Nobody who has investigated Hunter Biden's career alleges that he did anything illegal.

But the problem with Washington is - what is legal? It is hard to believe the younger Biden would have been offered a seat on the board of Ukraine's largest private gas company were his father not the US vice-president.

It is also difficult to accept that Biden Junior would have become executive vice-president of the Delaware-based MBNA Bank had his father not then been a Senator from the same state. Nor that he would have gone on to become a Washington-based lobbyist. This is business as usual in America's capital. Soft nepotism is how things work. It is also what fuels America's disdain for Federal politics.

Mr Trump was elected on a promise to "drain the swamp". One of the strongest lines of attack against him next year will be that he has turned the swamp into a primeval soup. Whatever else happens between now and then, Mr Biden will be in a bad position to make that case. FT

READ MORE: Trump's impeachment inquiry: roadmap and implications