Sarah Churchwell says it is self-evident Trump will go—but Simon Heffer disagreesby Sarah Churchwell, Simon Heffer / June 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
Sarah Churchwell: The reasons for believing that Donald Trump should be removed from the White House today are too numerous to outline in such a brief piece. Fortunately they are also self-evident. Everyone knows he should go, including, presumably, the Republicans in Congress still shoring up his ever more risible and discredited administration.
There are many methods: impeachment, the 25th Amendment (if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet vote that he is “unable to discharge the duties” of his office, a clause that—significantly—doesn’t specify this “inability”), criminal prosecution, or being forced to resign, as happened to President Nixon.
But this will not occur, we are told, because it is not in Republicans’ interests to oust Trump, while their extreme gerrymandering of congressional districts makes it unlikely that the Democrats will be able to take Congress from them in the 2018 midterm elections. Clearly self-interest, of the most venal and despicable kind, is guiding any so-called lawmaker supporting a president so spectacularly incompetent and compulsively dishonest. They want their tax cuts, and they will hold the country hostage to get them.
But it is precisely because of Republicans’ self-interest that Trump will never last four years. So-called “Trump supporters” (somehow different from Trump voters) are said to comprise 46 per cent of the United States, whereas in truth they only comprised 46 per cent of the electorate. In fact Trump was elected by a mere 26 per cent of the adult American populace (see gerrymandering, above); 75 per cent did not vote for Trump, and his approval rating has dropped to just 39 per cent, while his “strong approval” rating has plummeted to a staggering 17 per cent.
More Americans disapprove of his performance than approve of it, and that can only change for the worse, because Trump is temperamentally incapable of the discipline necessary to turn a sinking tanker around. Taking on water by the day, Trump can’t keep this ship afloat for four years; one way or another, he will go overboard.
Simon Heffer: Saying there are reasons why Trump should be removed from the White House today misses the point. It is one thing to have, or think one has, reasons. It is quite another for the authorities in America to be able to act on those reasons—if they are sufficient—in a way that leads to Trump leaving office. There are four ways this end could be achieved.
The first, and simplest, is that he resigns, as Nixon did in 1974 when he saw the inevitability of the house falling down on him over Watergate. Trump does not seem to be a resigning sort of person; and at the moment, however bad he may appear, there is no set of circumstances that would compel him to resign even if he were. Even if a case began to pile up against him it appears to be in his nature to defy reality—that is not least how he managed to win the presidency when most of the commentariat said he couldn’t. So I would not expect him to resign even if he were in a position such as Nixon was.
The second way for him to go is impeachment, which requires a simple majority of the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the Senate to achieve the president’s removal. It also needs a prima facie case to be made for the president having committed treason, been guilty of bribery, or of other high crimes or misdemeanours. Evidence on those scores is awaited, but even some Democrats have said the FBI investigation currently in train is unlikely to provide it.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton ended in disaster for the impeachers not least because their case appeared to be driven by their personal dislike. And many of those Republicans who dislike Trump know their electors do not dislike him, so they would be digging their own graves.
The third way is for him to be judged mentally unfit, under the provisions of the 25th Amendment: good luck. And the fourth is for him to be assassinated. Those who want Trump out should pin their best hopes on his secret service detail failing to live up to its customary high standards, though that would be a pretty unpleasant way to be done with him and would probably cause more problems than it would solve.
SC: No one sane is talking about assassination. Not only would that be vile, it would also be politically demented. The last thing America needs is a martyred Trump. But assassination is not the only way presidents die. Trump is 70, clearly overweight and under enormous, unaccustomed stress. Genuine health problems, even short of death, might remove Trump from office. And it’s perfectly possible that the pretext of health problems could let him save sufficient face to withdraw from a job he seems to hate more by the day.
As for whether he is “a resigning sort of person,” someone who has never done a single thing he didn’t want to do, who has declared business bankruptcy six times, who has been involved in more than 3,500 legal actions most of which were settled, and who is clearly already deeply frustrated by the job only five months in, seems to me precisely the sort of person who might resign. There are plenty of ways to blame the Democrats on his way out the door.
As for the legal and political methods of removal: the 25th Amendment does not say “mentally unfit.” It says, as I wrote, “unable to discharge the powers of the presidency.” As I also said, it gives the cabinet and vice president total latitude in deciding how to define “unable to discharge.” Similarly, articles of impeachment are drawn up by Congress, and are not limited to criminal charges. The impeachment articles against Andrew Johnson, for example, included issuing orders with unlawful intent. Nixon was charged with obstruction of justice, among other things. The special counsel examining Russia’s role in the 2016 election now appears to be investigating whether Trump has attempted to obstruct justice. It is not difficult to imagine Congress deciding that similar charges might apply, especially one emerging from a wave of anti-Trump sentiment in the 2018 midterms, if he can even hang on that long.
SH: I apologise for my insanity in talking about assassination. For the avoidance of doubt, I am certainly not advocating it, and would deplore it in this case as I would for any democratically-elected head of state or of government. But were I a betting man it would still seem to me the most likely way in which Trump will be prevented from serving a full term. One thing I have noticed about billionaires and ill-health is that it doesn’t occur with quite the incidence it has among poor and deprived people. Trump can afford the best medical advice in the world, and regular chillaxing at Mar-a-Lago would seem likely to preserve his health for a while yet.
Republican politics doesn’t operate in a vacuum. The reason so many congressmen resigned themselves to Trump after he won was that he had massive support in the country. As the recent special election in Montana has shown, he remains popular. Those throwing him out must prepare to take the personal consequences for themselves that would come of countering the will of Trump’s core vote. Senators and Representatives are not habitually that selfless. Trump’s cabinet isn’t going to throw him out using the 25th Amendment, and after the Bill Clinton debacle no-one is going to try impeachment unless something of Watergate-style incrimination emerges: and all that awaits is hard evidence.
SC: Trump does not have “massive support.” He lost the popular vote by almost three million. The crowds at his inauguration—his blustering protests notwithstanding—were pitiful, while the next day saw the biggest political protest in American history. As I already said, Trump was in fact voted in by just 26 per cent of the population. His numbers are falling daily; as I write, his approval rating has dropped to 36 per cent and disapproval risen to 60 per cent. There is no reason to believe that trend will reverse. That is not “massive support.” Since 1946, a president with approval ratings below 50 per cent averages a loss of 36 seats in the midterms, which would leave the Democrats in control of Congress.
Meanwhile senior Republican figures like Jason Chaffetz are saying they won’t run again; in Georgia, an unknown challenger named Jon Ossoff is running six points ahead of his Republican opponent in a Republican district. Trump undermines his own legal case by the day, with each successive tweetstorm. Senior diplomats are resigning in protest at his withdrawal from the Paris Accords, while he has failed to appoint people to fill crucial administrative roles. His administration is grinding to a halt thanks to its own incompetence, and plagued by the leaks of those refusing to submit to Trump’s unethical and probably illegal demands. The intelligence community is leaking against him as well.
Everyone is turning against him; Trump is losing the little political support he had, and that support was only ever cynical, expedient and self-interested. He is now even alienating his own cabinet, who were reportedly “blindsided” by his decision to alter his Nato speech in May. The Republicans would far prefer Mike Pence (see p40) to be president, and I’m willing to bet Pence shares that preference. Trump is in a downward spiral and entirely lacks the temperament, discipline or backing to emerge from it—the support of 25 per cent of Americans will not be enough to save him for four years.
My point was not that he has massive support in America. It is that he has massive support in the Republican heartland. Hence the party’s success in the Montana special election. That is why Republican politicians will be careful about removing him. Many liberals cannot understand why someone so distasteful to them, with views they abhor and whose personal conduct is so revolting, can be allowed to hold office. Welcome to the realities of democracy, where others hold different views. It doesn’t matter what opinion polls say about the numbers who want him impeached. Opinion polls here still show a majority in favour of restoring the death penalty, and that isn’t going to happen either.
Liberals, if they believe in democracy, are simply going to have to accept that once in a while it goes against them (see Brexit). Sometimes those we don’t like get elected. Indeed, sometimes some of them get elected more than once. After what happened in 2016, I wouldn’t bet against that happening to Trump.