The conventional wisdom for a number of months has been that the Democratic led House of Representatives may impeach, or indict, President Trump, but the Republican led Senate will never vote to convict him and remove him from office.
The no removal conclusion is based mostly on the model followed in the case of President Clinton, coupled with the fact that Republicans in Washington, D.C. have been very careful over the last three years to support the president no matter what. They fear a political backlash from the president’s core supporters if they do anything that is perceived as disloyal.
The most important word in that last sentence is “fear.” Fear of voters and fear of losing an election is what drives most politicians. In the case of Republican senators turning on Trump to vote for his removal — it will happen with lightning speed if at some point in the next few weeks or months — it becomes more painful politically to support him than it is to turn on him. Once it starts, it will seem like an avalanche.
As I travel overseas I have run into lots of people from Europe, Australia and of course southeast Asia (where I am right now) who are interested in knowing what’s going on politically in the United States. For the most part they are not up to speed on the daily news about the impeachment process and have little understanding of how it works. What they generally know is that our politics is in turmoil and they see President Trump as the root cause.
Many have said his behavior reflects poorly on the United States. One German told me the “whole world is laughing at you.” One Russian just shook his head, laughed and looked down at his feet when I told him I was from the United States. He had nothing more to say.
If you believe — as I do — that President Trump has never had the country’s interest in mind since his first day in office then you probably believe bringing a case for impeachment forward is long over-due. Over the last month however, the case has grown stronger than ever with nearly a dozen credible witnesses testifying on Capitol Hill — at great risk to their professional careers and reputations — that the president is guilty of attempting to trade U.S. taxpayer money in exchange for political favors to help his political campaign. Adding to the scandal is the fact that the person he was extorting is the president of Ukraine.
This is the underlying capital offense, but it is not as if Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors don’t include a long list of aggravating factors. We can start with his attempts to thwart the congressional investigation into his misdeeds, his clear obstruction of justice in the Mueller investigation, his use of his office to promote his personal business interests, his lack of knowledge of how even the basics of our system of government are supposed to work. You know, the whole three branches of government thing. Co-equal. Power sharing. The president is not the king.
The most telling part of the partial transcript of the July 25th call between Trump and the Ukrainian president is not the part where Trump asks for an investigation into his political rivals, it’s when the Ukrainian president tells Trump that his own government officials are making a point of staying in Trump hotels. Trump simply acknowledges the favor. This is how corruption works in real life. The players in such a transaction never overtly verbalize the terms of their deal — they just make sure the other party knows what is happening. It all seems fair. That’s why everyone from Vice President Pence to diplomats from around the world have suddenly developed a fondness for Trump owned properties since January of 2017. They know Trump knows where they are spending their money.
Last weekend I was flying from Cambodia to Thailand and met a man and his wife from California who are both Trump supporters. After a conversation that had been pleasant for most of the flight I told them both that on Trump we would have to agree to disagree. That did not stop them from trying to convince me. They said the wall the president has erected between the U.S. and Mexico has made a huge difference and that all the money the Chinese have been taking from us is now back in the United States. All of it. They were emphatic about their views.
If you haven’t checked recently, neither of those accomplishments have been accomplished. I did not argue these points I just explained why I think Trump is unfit for office. On this point the couple agreed with me, but in the end they are willing to take a chance with Trump because they believe he does what he says he is going to do.
So like many Senate Republicans these two Trump supporters agree the president is not worthy of the office he holds, but are not willing to remove him from office, because they think it is in their interest to keep him there.
Next year is an election year not just for president but for one-third of the U.S. Senate. The battle over impeachment is likely to slide into 2020. If Republican candidates, those running for re-election or those seeking their first terms, feel they are spending too much time defending an indefensible president and not enough time talking about issues that can get them elected — they will begin to defect. And once one does it — it becomes easier for the rest to follow.
This is one way the Trump presidency ends. Driven by the fear of losing their own elections, Republicans make the calculus they have more to gain than to lose by abandoning the president they have made countless excuses for since before his inauguration.
There is one other way the Trump presidency might end before next year’s election. The Republican Party — in the early primary campaign months of January, February and March could see he has no chance of winning a general election. If that happens the party could rush toward an as yet unidentified candidate to deny Trump the nomination. There is also the possibility that Trump himself would come to understand he can’t win and pull out of the race. This would be a classic Trump move, because it would allow him to declare victory and get out of a job he never really wanted in the first place. He could and would claim the wall has been built, the world fears and respects the United States again, and that he has been the greatest president since “probably Abe Lincoln. They called him ‘honest Abe.’” Mission accomplished.
In some of the countries I have visited in the last month the people fear the government. In the United States, politicians fear the people and the power voters have to change the direction of the country. Republicans have been loyal to President Trump to the point of farce,* but as the pure truth makes defending Trump more difficult, political self-interest is a much stronger incentive than avoiding the wrath of a disgraced former president.
* A comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations.