The noose is tightening around Donald Trump. Will the proceedings initiated a month ago by the Democratic majority of the House of Representatives—involving a preliminary inquiry seeking to indict the president via a process called impeachment (it's in the French dictionary)—back him into a corner at long last?
Or, to the contrary, like a slippery and elusive fish, will this character continue to dodge every rule that applied to U.S. politics, if not politics in general, until 2016?
It is not impossible to believe that the day of judgment is approaching and that the law of gravity, against all expectations, is finally catching up with Trump.
We know his strengths: by destroying and ridiculing established practices and traditional approaches to rationality, truth, facts and decorum, he has reinvented politics and won the steadfast, often militant, support of more than one-third, if not 40%, of U.S. voters. Trump uses the anger of these disaffected, alienated voters to his advantage. Boosted by his base, he has got one of two major U.S. political parties virtually under his heel.
Popular support for Trump is real, which reveals something deep and significant. But the question here is whether his base will be weakened, even if only by a few points, enough to worry the White House's current occupant in 2020, as Trump is under attack by the House of Representatives’ inquiry into the Ukraine affair—a scandal of enormous proportions, and yet easy to understand, unlike the complex ramifications of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
If the president continues to keep the Republican representatives and senators in Congress under his thumb—almost all of whom have been steamrolled by him and who have lacked any backbone with respect to his repeated transgressions—nothing indicates that their support will last forever.
I don't mean that they’ll suddenly regain their moral integrity as politicians, after having sold their souls to the devil, but rather that they'll relinquish their support to gain an electoral advantage.
Today, the president can tell a Republican senator or representative who is tempted to withdraw his or her support that he’s finished if Trump decides to support someone else who can replace him. Trump has a vast reservoir of devotees who, during the primaries, can unseat elected members of Congress with wavering loyalty.
This is true today, but what if the shift we're seeing in public opinion during the impeachment inquiry pans out tomorrow?
In the past two weeks, support for Trump's impeachment and removal from office has markedly increased. An average of the latest polls shows that 49% of Americans are for his removal from office, versus 43% who are opposed. Some polls go as high as 53%. That's unprecedented.
By comparison, in May 1974, three months before Richard Nixon was forced out of office after the Watergate investigation zeroed in on him, 49% were for his removal from office, versus 41% who were opposed. In July 1974, those numbers were 53% and 34%. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9.
During this past week, we've witnessed growing signs of concern and turmoil at the White House and among Republican congressmen.
Trump sunk to a new low with the words he chose to describe acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, a mild-mannered career diplomat who came out of retirement when he was appointed by the Trump administration four months ago, and whose testimony about the Ukraine affair on Oct. 22 proved to be damning.
Trump likened him to "human scum.” The president also referred to the inquiry as a “lynching,” an extremely loaded word given U.S. history.
On Oct. 23, the sit-in like actions by a dozen or so Republican representatives who stormed into a secure hearing room where depositions in the impeachment inquiry were being taken displayed another image of panic and impromptu response in the heat of a fast-moving situation which seems to be turning against them.
Is the wall starting to crumble? One thing is certain: impeachment is going to happen. As for the proceedings that will follow in the Senate, anything is possible, even a worst-case scenario in which 20 Republican senators side with the Democrats and betray the leader who has terrorized and dominated them for the past three years.
François Brousseau covers international news at Ici Radio-Canada.