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What Did Tuesday’s Legal Decisions Really Change in the Long Term?

(Grigory Dukor/Reuters)

Despite Tuesday’s dramatic courtroom revelations, the long-term outlook for President Trump doesn’t seem to have changed all that much.

Assume the scenario that Trump is predicting, that the 2018 midterms produce a “Red Wave.” The sheer number of open seats, the discouraging results for Republicans in recent special House elections, and the general indicators that the Democratic grassroots are fired up are all counter-evidence of this GOP dream scenario, but maybe the increased talk of impeachment will fire up and motivate the Trump voters of 2016.

Assume that the Congress of January looks like it does today — modest GOP majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats would continue to bang the drums for impeachment, because of Cohen’s claims and whatever special counsel Robert Mueller uncovered. But without indisputable evidence of serious crimes and a chunk of the GOP base voters breaking away from Trump, impeachment efforts will go nowhere under a Republican speaker. The 2020 presidential cycle would likely overtake the impeachment talk quickly, as Democrats began to focus more on defeating Trump and less on a futile attempt to remove him from office.

A more plausible scenario, based on the current data, is the GOP has a lousy year in the House races and loses its majority in that chamber, but benefits from an easy map and good candidates and actually picks up a Senate seat or two. Rick Scott’s looking pretty good in Florida, Kevin Cramer’s got a lead in North Dakota, Josh Hawley’s either tied or enjoying a small lead in Missouri, and Dean Heller’s hanging in there in Nevada. Heck, Leah Vukmir’s within two points of Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and Democrat Bob Menendez’s lead in New Jersey is pretty modest, so maybe the GOP has a very good year in the Senate.

If that happens, count on Democrats to push for impeachment proceedings fairly quickly once Mueller makes his final report. With a Democrat-held House and a GOP-held Senate, the outcome is pretty predictable, barring some revelation that convinces a significant number of GOP senators to switch. To remove a president from office, two-thirds of the senators present have to vote to convict, and it’s hard to picture, say, 15 to 17 Republican senators voting to get rid of Trump.

Could the GOP lose the Senate? Sure, it would require Democrats not making many mistakes, but it could happen. And a Senate where Democrats control 51 seats could cause all kinds of headaches for the administration, with investigations, hearings, and subpoenas. But the math on an impeachment vote wouldn’t change very much.

Trump might even find a failed impeachment attempt politically useful, offering a version of the argument, “I’ve brought you tax cuts, good judges, deregulation, a booming economy, a crushed ISIS, and peace with North Korea [or whatever] and they tried to remove me from office. The swamp doesn’t care about good results, they just want to get rid of me, and that’s why I need your support again in 2020,” etcetera.


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