Two elements of the turbulent current American political scene became clearer over the past week. One is the determination, attested to by almost all Washington insiders whatever side they are on, of the Democratic leadership to force an impeachment trial of the president. Also developing, as a further bleat from the vanishing NeverTrumpers, is the theory that large chunks of Republican loyalty in Congress are starting to peel off and desert the president.
Since all polls show Republican opinion in the country is rock solid behind the president and by any normal criteria—the economy, declining illegal immigration, and his delivery on election promises—he will be reelected easily. This, as the egregious U.S. Representative Al Green (D-Texas) says, is the problem: if Trump isn’t impeached, he will be reelected. But impeachment will be a complete failure, and he will be reelected anyway.
The game has escalated. Donald Trump said he would drain the swamp and he has made a greater effort than any president since Andrew Jackson in 1829 to sweep out the governing elites. It was not on a whim that he had that president’s painting hung behind his desk in the Oval Office and visited Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, in Nashville.
The political establishment thought it had heard it all before. Dwight Eisenhower came in after five Democratic terms under Roosevelt and Truman promising change, and speaking of the “liberation and roll-back” of the USSR in Eastern Europe. But he changed very little (and those three presidents taken together constitute one of the greatest epochs in U.S. presidential government).
John F. Kennedy was a generational change, but policy changes had to wait for Lyndon Johnson: Civil rights at last, and lower taxes. Ronald Reagan rode into town attacking the government and he was still rhetorically attacking the government six years later. He got his tax cuts and defense build-up and the Soviet leadership changed and, with his Strategic Defense Initiative, he induced the bloodless collapse of the Soviet Union and the victorious end of the Cold War. Reagan was a great president. But he didn’t discommode the Washington establishment very much, and they came to like him.
Andrew Jackson had been a famous citizen general and briefly a senator, and was deprived of election on his first try, in a four-way race that went to the House of Representatives in the absence of an Electoral College majority. Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who placed fourth, assisted the runner-up, John Quincy Adams, into the White House and was rewarded with the State Department. Jackson campaigned for four years against the “corrupt bargain” and won the next two terms.
Eisenhower was a world-historic victorious theater commander in World War II and set up NATO. He pretended that he accepted a draft, like Washington, but Richard Nixon, senator from California, swung that state behind seating Eisenhower delegates over Robert Taft’s delegates (from contested southern states the Republicans had no chance of winning), and won the 1952 Republican convention for Eisenhower, who rewarded him with the vice presidency.
Ronald Reagan had been a mellifluous crusader for the right, but not a radical governor of California, and everyone knew fairly well what to expect when he came into office.
Rank-and-File Republicans Have Trump’s Back
Donald Trump was a total outsider politically. He pioneered a new technique of parlaying celebrity and a system of intensive branding of his name and exposure as an impresario and reality television star, into an outsider candidacy, representing the anti-elites and all who felt short-changed by the yuppie-champion Clintons and Obamas and the indistinct Bushes. Like a big cat stalking a wildebeest, Trump changed parties seven times in 13 years, polling constantly, until he saw his target clearly and within range and he charged and seized it.
As Trump was running against all factions of both parties, the adaptation of the congressional Republicans in Washington to the Trump era was sluggish and is still not complete. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have left and John McCain died, having killed health care reform and ordained that he have an anti-Trump funeral. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a sly old Kentuckian, has made the cut, as he assimilates to all changes in Washington.
But whatever the Republican congressional delegations think of Trump—and Flake may be right that privately many Republican senators would like to see the back of him—he has the rank-and-file Republican public behind him as only a few Republican presidents have: Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon at his strongest, and Reagan. Apart from a few ostentatiously pseudo-conscientious senators such as Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the Republican senators can’t desert him in the absence of serious evidence of his wrongdoing, and there is none.
The principal lesson of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation in 2018 was that there are enough sane and honest people in the Senate who will notice the absence of any believable incriminating evidence to produce a just decision. No serious person could make a crime out of the Ukraine “facts”; only rabid, witless, blood and publicity hounds (of whom the Democrats have no shortage), can claim that. But that is no longer the point. There was no believable evidence against Kavanaugh either, but only a balance of probabilities was required, at a time when any female denunciation from the past against a prominent man was accorded great credence. Yet even the most Trump-skeptical Republicans in the Senate stayed with Kavanaugh (apart from Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who paired with pro-Kavanaugh Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who had to attend his daughter’s wedding).
Desperate Hours, Self-Destructive Tendencies
The Democrats and their Republican kindred spirits in the Washington establishment, having completely failed to see Trump coming, and after complacently assuming they could jettison him on the Russian scam, relying on the slavish allies in the national political media, now realize their backs are to the wall and this is their last play.
It won’t work, and while they are trying to execute it, prominent figures of the previous administration will be arraigned for cooking up the Russian collusion fiction and inflicting it on the country by corrupting the FBI and intelligence services. This will not be an optimal ambiance for trying to remove a president whose conduct is sometimes outrageous but who hasn’t broken any laws.
No one should imagine that there will be much sobriety or solemnity in any of this. Being decorous is not the president’s strong suit at the best of times and his enemies are desperate. This isn’t the Nixon-Watergate crisis replayed; there have been no illegalities, and Trump has not squandered his political capital. Where there is still no conclusive evidence that Nixon was complicit in crimes, there were crimes by members of his entourage and he badly mismanaged the crisis; after the media had done their work, his party was running away from him.
Today Trump, not his party, enthuses the Republicans. His threat to the status quo, even more than his garish and sometimes oafish foibles, drives his enemies to such irrational extremes, and make Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Al Green and similar disreputables, almost indistinguishable from the party leaders.
The second notable development in the last week that has altered the political landscape is the outrageous, defamatory, and possibly insane charge by Hillary Clinton that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and the 2016 Green candidate for president Jill Stein, are “Russian assets” being “groomed” by the Russians for third party candidacies. This is the former first lady, U.S. senator from New York and secretary of state. This is the same mentality that in its deranged perversity commissioned the fraudulent Steele Dossier, and gave us the Trump-Russia “treason” myth, on which she blamed her loss of the election. It didn’t work in 2016. The fervent efforts of the Mueller special counsel staff to produce something remotely indictable against Trump failed, and this final effort to remove the president will be a disaster.
But Clinton has given us a hint of what the world was spared when she was defeated. The Democrats are being led by a coalition of constitutional renegades, spavined political tricksters, and would-be socialist tyrants. They are speeding over a political cliff. The force of gravity will assert itself.