It has been quite a ride since Inauguration Day — or, rather, from Michael Wolff to Omarosa and Michael Cohen, or from the Emoluments Clause to the 25th Amendment, or from talk of decapitating Trump to talk of blowing up the White House.
Yet what might happen should Trump be removed from office, either by impeachment leading to conviction or resignation or by federal indictment from Robert Mueller?
Given the evidence so far, the results could be civil chaos, and for a variety of reasons:
The Trump Record
Had Trump misled his base and not fulfilled his campaign promises, he would have little popular support. Had he tanked the economy and started a war, he would be polling in the 20s rather than the mid to lower 40s.
Trump also polls about 85 percent among Republicans. He is even more popular among blue-collar “Trump voters,” largely because of efforts to equalize trade, restore U.S. deterrence, end illegal immigration, and jump-start the economy, as evidenced by a record-high stock market, near-record peacetime unemployment, and likely annualized GDP growth of 3 percent or more. Minority joblessness is also at a near-record low. The startling fact is that a so-called buffoonish real-estate developer hit upon a calculus to restore robust economic growth in a way that all the degreed experts of the prior administration had not.
His judicial picks belie predictions that Trump would not keep his vows to appoint strict constructionists. There have been no David Souter–like or Harriet Miers–like nominations to the Supreme Court. His national-security team at Defense, State, the National Security Council, the CIA, and the UN is better than any seen in prior postwar administrations. Mike Pompeo is not Hillary Clinton, H. R. McMaster and John Bolton have not been Susan Rice, and Jim Mattis is not Chuck Hagel. Nor is Nikki Haley playing the role of Samantha Power at the U.N., or sending in countless requests to unmask the names of those swept in FISA warrants.
In other words, Trump did what he said he would, despite widespread skepticism. Even his critics concede that the economy is booming. In retrospect, smug prognostications of disaster should the U.S. leave the Iran deal or the Paris Climate Accord or move the embassy to Jerusalem or get tough with the North Koreans or prod NATO members into meeting their prior promises were flat-out wrong.
The plaint against Trump is not that he ruined the economy, but that the ghost of Obama is responsible for Trump’s present economic renaissance, and not that his foreign policy has failed, but that allies, neutrals, and enemies do not appreciate American recalibrations or like us much for being suddenly noncompliant.
In sum, impeaching or removing a successful president is not a winning proposition. More important, we have never threatened any president with impeachment primarily for purported wrongdoing before he took office.
Had we done so, every president from Dwight Eisenhower (who avoided $400,000 in taxes by finagling a one-time government ruling to declare the huge royalties on his memoir as “capital gains” rather than income) to Barack Obama (who, well aside from Tony Rezko’s “gift,” faced campaign violations involving nearly $1.8 million in improper 2008 contributions that earned a $375,000 fine) would have faced non-stop legal hounding while in office. Harry Truman would have been impeached his first year, had a special prosecutor reviewed his long relationships of years past with the criminal syndicate run by Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. In 1963, a Mueller-like special counsel would still have been ferreting out all the election tampering during the 1960 election and its relationship to JFK.
Donald Trump has been subjected to nearly 20 months of unprecedented venom and fury. We know that some of his past associates are uncouth and criminally minded, and that he is crude in retorts and undisciplined in his private life — none of which justifies the allegations that he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors while in office. That fact is another reason why Trump’s polls have not yet tanked, as Richard Nixon’s did in mid-1974.
Watergate is not the proper moral or political referent. The impeachment of Bill Clinton, mostly for lying about cavorting with a young White House intern, is — because the act occurred during his presidential tenure. Yet Clinton’s strong economic record ensured an eventual boomerang on his accusers. There is a good chance that third-quarter economic news will be even better for Republican House candidates, and they might yet offer a collective October questioning of their respective opponents, “Will you or will you not vote to impeach the president if you are in the majority?” For all the current braggadocio, most Democrat candidates will evade an answer.
Unequal Application of the Law
For every crime — collusion, perjury, obstruction, fraud — that Mueller seeks to use to delegitimize Trump, there is a comparable or greater crime in plain sight that he ignores. The asymmetry is not insignificant and involves not the often-disreputable political class as much as the supposedly professional bureaucratic hierarchy.
Deluding the FISA court, implanting spies in a political campaign, unmasking and leaking the names of surveilled citizens, not reporting campaign expenditures funneled through fronts such as Perkins Coie and Fusion/GPS to employ a foreign national to smear a political opponent, destroying subpoenaed documents, lying to Congress, lying to federal investigators, and far more all go unnoticed. The onus is on Mueller’s team to explain by what criterion a losing presidential candidate gains immunity from legal exposure while the winning one earns legal scrutiny.
In lieu of an explanation, we are to assume that high government officials repeatedly broke the law and covered up their illegality. They calculated that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in and would ignore or reward their often-illegal zeal.
Again, it is hard to impeach a president for alleged crimes that were committed before he took office and were as likely committed by his opponent.
Vice President Pence
Should Trump somehow leave office, Vice President Mike Pence would likely seek to carry out his populist agenda geared to maintaining Trump’s Electoral College winning formula. No one could calibrate whether his more discreet manner and sterling character and personal ethos would gain independents to his agenda or lose some of the base that preferred Trump’s greater combativeness and cunning. Either way, it is unlikely that either the Left or the Never Trump Right would be happy with a Pence presidency. Indeed, on social issues or religious agendas, they might find Pence more unpalatable — and yet far harder to defame.
Nonetheless, do not expect the Left to cease its hysteria should Trump disappear; it would simply recalibrate and refocus on Pence. The effort would be to repeat the Trump-demonization formula of trying to leverage some sort of legal infraction into a melodramatic felony to discredit an opposition president — perhaps in the manner the Left is now seeking to turn the upright Brett Kavanaugh into a veritable monster. Getting Trump would likely only whet the appetite to go after his successor.
The Trump Base
Conventional wisdom voiced by the Never Trump movement and dissident political voices is that Trump “hijacked” the Republican party. Accordingly, in the post-Trump era, it must then return to its sober and judicious, but otherwise mostly losing, presidential record embodied by recent unsuccessful mastheads.
But there are problems here as well.
The base not only has little allegiance to the Wall Street/Chamber of Commerce view of the world on trade, immigration, and manufacturing, but could either sit out or oppose any election that returns the party to the orthodox ideology of the recent past.
The Trump base will see a Trump removal as a Deep State/elite-bluestocking effort to nullify an election. With long memories, they will be far less likely to vote Republican at the national level. We should remember that conservatives have maligned Trump voters as much as has the Left, from “crazies” to what Eliot Cohen recently referred to as a “peasant revolt.”
What got Trump elected was not just his populist/nationalist agenda but a canny appraisal of the Electoral College. So far in the two years of Republican-party civil war, few Never Trumpers have offered anything like the following: “We do not need the crude Trump and his crackpot heresies, or his pathetic peasant rallies, but instead can return to Republican orthodoxy and thereby win the states of Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.”
Few seem to ponder that the Trump election was not so much a vote for a raconteur who frequented with the likes of Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, but rather for someone who was not the Republican party, at least as embodied in the last few years in the national elections. Few have argued that had Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or John Kasich won the Republican nomination, his agenda and Marquess of Queensbury rules of decorum would have won over the swing voters in the above key states. That is not an endorsement of either Trump’s heterodox views or his personal comportment; it is just a statement of fact.
A Trump abdication of some sort would alienate current Trump voters from the Republican party for a generation.
The Never Trumpers
Republicans who for two years have made the argument that Trump’s personal downsides have outweighed his otherwise conservative agenda, or that his unorthodox ideas on trade and immigration nullify his judicial appointments and tax and deregulation record, will not suddenly be called in to nurse a Republican Phoenix to arise out of the Trump ashes.
At least 85 to 90 percent of the Republican party disagrees with Never Trump absolutism. Fair or not, the so-called Never Trumpers would be as likely to be blamed for their nonstop ankle-biting of a deposed Trump as they are to be cited as prescient in warning of the ultimate wages of his sins.
It is also likely that MSNBC, CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times would view Never Trumpers in the fashion that MSNBC once saw Pat Buchanan after the end of the Bush presidency, the successful Iraq surge, and the ascendency of Barack Obama: a once-expedient conservative resource to fuel Bush opposition, but no longer needed or wanted after his utility was over, and so to be gradually eased out once a suitable illiberal pretext could be found.
While it is desirable for liberal organs to have a “conservative” writing 24/7 about the evils of Trump, it is not of much value, once the evils of Trump are ostensibly gone. In other words, in a post-Trump world, many of the Never Trump Republicans would likely be faced with either becoming permanent converts to the liberal cause or being orphaned from their once-welcoming liberal friends and current coveted progressive billets.
Elections Have No Consequences?
If Democrats regain the presidency, they should fear the precedent that they have set. To thwart a progressive agenda, some zealous conservatives might in the future adopt the successful 2017–19 Democratic playbook on the principle simply that it worked.
We are in danger of establishing a precedent that in the new American politics, the way to defeat an oppositional leader is not to wait for the next election but to warp the criminal-justice system, normalize violent rhetoric against the person of the president, and consider the president guilty of whatever crime from his past is most convenient. Crudity will become tantamount to high crimes and misdemeanors. And the new rules will demand that when a president-elect enters office, he does not begin a new political life, but rather is subject to new legal inquiries about everything that he has done previously.
As cynics, we have grown accustomed to personal shenanigans from politicians — a JFK, LBJ, Clinton, or Trump; we do not expect flagrant lying, obstruction of justice, conflicts of interest, and violations of the law from our “professional” overseers at the CIA, FBI, DOJ, and NSC. And yet in the last year of the Obama presidency, they were unleashed to use likely illegal means to destroy a perceived threat, assured that a Clinton presidency would provide de facto amnesty.
The elite media, the Democratic party hierarchy, the intellectual establishment, the entertainment industry, the Never Trump punditry, and the identity-politics industry have all created a vast echo chamber. Inside it, each seems to vie with the other to adduce the most creative end-game scenarios surrounding the hated Trump. This week we are told that providing money to your own campaign to purchase, via a non-disclosure agreement, the silence of an alleged past paramour is an impeachable offense, while assuming that hiding campaign money sent through firewall intermediaries to hire a foreign spook to disrupt a presidential campaign and to seed an unverified dossier among government grandees leads to nothing.
Outside of their bubble, our elites have no idea of what half the “peasant” class thinks of them, or what it will do if they succeed, or the untold paradoxes and ironies that they will bring upon themselves.
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