While the information is mixed, there seems to be a downward trend in President Trump’s approval numbers over the last couple of weeks. I think we’re often left wondering what it will take for a more significant portion of the country to turn its back on the fraudster in the White House, but something seems to be afoot. Still, it’s not really all that important where the polls are now. We want to know where they’ll be when it really matters. And that prognostication has to take into account a lot of coming attractions:
We’re waiting for the rumored Roger Stone indictment to come down, and so is he. We’re waiting for the charges that might be filed against Don Jr. We’re waiting for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to deliver his collusion and obstruction report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. We’re waiting for Rudolph Giuliani’s counter-report to the Mueller report, which is almost finished even though Rudy hasn’t seen Mueller’s work. We’re waiting for Paul Manafort’s second trial, which starts on September 24, and aren’t sure whether to be happy or blue about his plea deal falling apart.
We’re waiting to see what new fur balls the Michael Cohen prosecutions will cough up and we’re waiting to see if a November red tide will spark the impeachment machinery to life and activate the dozen-and-a-half investigations of Trump World that Axios says the Democrats have dreamed up, wish-list style, on a spreadsheet. We’re waiting for Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House. (One measure of our towering anticipations: It has been decades since anybody looked forward to a Woodward book.)
We’re waiting for President Donald Trump to find new boundaries to melt with his indignation and fury. (“I view it as an illegal investigation,” the president insisted to Bloomberg this week.) We’re waiting for him to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We’re waiting for him to fire Rosenstein. (At his Thursday rally in Indiana, he threatened to take charge of the Department of Justice and the FBI.)
Most of all, we’re waiting for him to fire Mueller.
I don’t often agree with Megan McArdle, but I think she is doing a good job of trying to look forward:
It’s all too easy to imagine a similar scenario for Democrats intent on impeaching Trump as they come up short looking for Republicans to help them make it across the finish line. But it’s not entirely impossible to picture a few Republicans going along. If Democrats do manage to start impeachment hearings, it would be because — unlike Republicans in 1998 — they’d be coming off a huge midterm win. Public support for impeaching Trump, even taking into account his more favorable polls, would be higher than it ever was for impeaching Clinton.
Trump is in a very unusual situation for an American president. Members of his die-hard base are loyal, but at his peak they were barely a plurality of the party. The rest of his support is purely expedient, interested in getting judges appointed and keeping Democrats out of power. Republicans in Congress are loyal, for now, but only because they’re afraid of his voters.
But by the time Trump faced a Senate trial, that would mean the political calculus had shifted radically. He would have cost them the Congress; there would be no hope of more judges; the 2020 election would seem already lost. And he’d have no reservoir of goodwill in the party, for at every turn he has made a point of attacking and humiliating any Republican he deemed insufficiently obsequious. Just how long will the Coalition of the Unwilling stand by a president who was never really their man?
Assuming the Democrats have a big night in November, the results will cut two ways. On the one hand, if the GOP gets shellacked, that will be a giant rebuke to the president that undercuts him in almost every way imaginable. Trump is doing badly enough managing the Russia investigation as it is, but with a hostile Congress he will have more problems than we can count.
On the other hand, most of the most likely Republican votes to impeach the president will be gone next year either because they have retired or been defeated. What remains of the GOP will be less moderate and, at least in the House, definitionally able to withstand the backlash against his style of governance.
The biggest difference between the effort to remove Trump and the failed effort to remove Bill Clinton is certain to be to the magnitude of the crimes involved. For the most part, Clinton’s guilt was fairly uncontroversial. The main question wasn’t over whether this or that act constituted perjury or obstruction of justice, but over whether any of them amounted to a high crime or misdemeanor. It wasn’t that challenging to argue that Clinton’s failings were basically personal in nature and to convincingly make the case that his opponents had investigated his sex life because they’d failed to find evidence in their Whitewater investigation. It wasn’t painless to give a president a pass for lying under oath, but it wasn’t a hard decision either, especially considering the fact that the people stuck with Clinton.
Any Republican senator thinking of acquitting Trump is going to have a much more difficult decision because giving him a pass on all the things that are likely to be subjects of articles of impeachment will eviscerate all standards about what a president can and cannot do while campaigning or serving in office. If they can dispute the facts, that’s what they’ll do. But if the people accept the facts as presented, the choice will come down to a mix of political and principled considerations, coupled with the fact that very few Republican senators have any genuine loyalty or confidence in the president to begin with.
I’m very cynical about the idea that Republican senators will put principle above party or even put the rule of law above party. But I don’t think these considerations will be entirely absent, and they’ll certainly be available as excuses for doing what the senators genuinely feel ought to be done. The critical decision point, however, will certainly be the perception of self-interest for both the Republican senators individually and for the health of the party overall. Those two considerations have been in a bad and seemingly irreconcilable tension ever since Trump won the nomination, but I think the scales will tip when it becomes clear that individual self-interest won’t be served by acquitting Trump.
I honestly don’t think that Republican senators will have much to fear in primaries in 2020 or 2022 from having voted to remove Trump from office. They may not see it that way right now, but I suspect they’ll be clear on it by the time they have to vote on impeachment. Only about sixteen of them need to vote to convict, and that will not be an unattainable number if the facts come in the way I expect them to come in.
All of this, however, is predicated on the Democrats having a good election night in November. If they don’t, then we can’t expect Congress to do anything but make themselves irrelevant in our system of government.