This Could End Badly (Or Not)

During interviews granted to the media over the last few days, even the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, as well as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, wondered if Donald Trump would run for a second term in 2020, hardly hiding their fear (or their wish?) that the billionaire would crash the presidential vehicle into a wall. Still, Trump’s first term might see a less dramatic denouement than hoped for by his critics.

Surely, the founding fathers provided Congress with the power to remove the president, but legislators have only resorted to this three times: Andrew Johnson (1869) and Bill Clinton (1998) were accused by the House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Senate, whereas Richard Nixon (1974) resigned from the presidency before the House’s formally voted to accuse him of obstruction of justice in the Watergate affair.

The first nine months of the Trump presidency and special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election have prompted some Democrats to introduce draft resolutions in the House that aim to unseat “The Donald.” However, even if more than 40 percent of Americans would like Trump removed from office, at least two factors render this eventuality improbable in the short-term: On the one hand, Mueller’s investigation has not, for the moment, proven beyond doubt that Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to abandon an investigation into the links between former national security advisor Michael Flynn and Russia (obstruction of justice).

Without such proof (or without discovering another scandal), the arguments of those who wish to unseat Trump hold little weight. On the other hand, the Democrats are the minority in both chambers of Congress and thus have neither the votes nor the institutional leverage at the Capitol (whose power it is to determine the subjects debated in plenary sessions) to unseat Trump.

The President Weakened?

The situation may change, however, the day following the November 2018 midterm elections, during which Democrats aim to regain control of both houses of Congress. Historically, the president’s party almost always loses seats in Congressl during midterms, which seem to represent a referendum on the president’s performance.

With 38 percent of the American population supporting him a year after his election, Trump figures among the least popular presidents in history as a midterm election approaches. If he is incapable of restoring his reputation or if his support decreases in these next few months, the Republicans might pay the price. If this happens, we might witness an electoral upset similar to those in 1946 and 2006, when Democrat Harry Truman (who had 27 percent support among the electorate) and Republican George W. Bush (who had 37 percent support) lost their majorities in Congress.

However, Democrats should not celebrate just yet: On the one hand, the most recent economic indicators – the unemployment rate at its lowest in 17 years, a gross domestic product growth of at least 3 percent over the course of the last two trimesters, etc. – may help Trump and the Republicans to ease voters’ anger. On the other hand, the Democrats hold 23 of 33 seats at stake in the Senate, and at least five of their members are currently vulnerable: Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Ben Nelson (Florida) and Joe Donnelly (Indiana).

The President Challenged?

However, if Democrats win the 2018 midterms, the resulting frustrations from elected Republicans may incite several of them to cut their ties with Trump definitively, like senators Bob Corker (Tennessee) and Jeff Flake (Arizona), who recently accused the billionaire of being unworthy of filling the role of president.

It is politically risky for Republicans to rebel against Trump at the moment: 78 percent of voters identifying with the party continue to support the president. However, Trump’s support from the Republican base has fallen 10 percent since January. If this trend continues, other members of the GOP will probably be tempted to do as Flake and Corker have done. Others will perhaps go so far as to challenge Trump in the Republican primary for the 2020 presidential election.

History shows that fratricidal warfare aimed at dislodging the president during the primary election generally leads nowhere: For example, Pat Buchanan (1992), Ted Kennedy (1980) and Ronald Reagan (1976) failed to win their party’s nomination against presidents George Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Their pursuits did, however, openly reveal the fractures that existed at the time within the parties in power. Afterward, Bush, Carter and Ford were also incapable of winning re-election. Is this the same end that awaits Trump?

The rumors surrounding the possible candidacies of Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Sens. Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Corker and Flake in the 2020 Republican primary seem to suggest this scenario. But this is not the first prediction of the fall of Trump, who thus far has managed to thwart predictions.

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