Republicans do not have to wake up each morning afraid of what the president has tweeted. They do not have to fret that the special counsel will find damning evidence of collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice or other criminal or impeachable behavior. They do not have to worry that they’ll accomplish absolutely nothing before facing the voters in 2018. They do not have to dread that a presidential temper tantrum will get us into a war, or force a humiliating retreat. They need not fear that the president of their own party will attack them, or even back a primary challenge against them. They could have a normal president. They could have their party back.
In short, a significant portion of elected Republicans have clearly figured out that a President Mike Pence would be highly preferable to President Donald Trump. Whatever virtues they thought Trump had, those never materialized, and seven months of nerve-racking White House histrionics and dysfunction have left them mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Behind closed doors and in whispered cloakroom conversations, most elected Republicans acknowledge that Trump is a menace, a danger to the party and to the country. If they had any doubts, this week should have confirmed, as Rick Wilson put it, that “there are a lot of reasons that GOP Trumpism won’t work, but the biggest one is this: Donald Trump hates you.”
So, yes, most Republicans in Congress would prefer a stable, very conservative president who once served in the House and governed a red state. All they have to do is get Trump out of there and the Pence presidency can begin. Well, sure, but how is that going to happen?
We don’t imagine that a quick divorce from Trump is possible. But after a few more months of outbursts, legislation botched by the White House and nail-biting confrontation with North Korea, Trump’s poll numbers could plunge to 30 percent or lower, with considerable erosion in the GOP base. Especially if we see more disturbing evidence of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and/or alarming evidence of possible obstruction of justice, the moment might be ripe to cut the cord.
The first approach would be to present an untenable choice. Republicans can decide maybe they should have hearings and consider the emoluments problem after all. Mind you, the president can stay president – or he can keep his foreign earnings. Not both. Likewise, Republicans can pass by veto-proof majorities a requirement for presidents to release their tax returns before the 2020 election. Hey, Trump can stay president and run again – or he can keep his tax returns secret. Not both. Then there are the nepotism laws. Perhaps they need to be clarified and strengthened. Beginning in, say, 2018, no presidential child, sibling or spouse can have an official job title, a White House office or a security clearance. Trump can stay, of course. But he’d have to operate without Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at his side. He can be president – or he can keep his children close to help him through his work. Not both.
The second choice is impeachment, of course, which no longer seems far-fetched. Much hinges on what special counsel Robert Mueller finds, but with a squad of lawyers, a ton of witnesses and Trump’s second-rate defense counsel, do we really think Mueller will come up completely dry? A month ago, it would have been hard to imagine Republicans initiating impeachment. Now, the American people are quite convinced that the Russia matter is no hoax. The Hill reports:
“A CNN poll conducted by SSRS found 70 percent of respondents think the Russia probe should include Trump’s finances. A majority, 60 percent, also says the Russia probe is a serious matter, compared to 38 percent who think it is an attempt to discredit the current president. Americans, by a 59 percent to 31 percent margin, do not approve of the way Trump is handling the investigation, pollsters found.”
If Trump starts refusing to cooperate and/or starts granting pardons, one can imagine the country collectively screaming: “Enough!” If Mueller makes a referral to the House for impeachment, Republicans might feel that they have no choice but to proceed. (And certainly if the Democrats take the House, they will initiate impeachment hearings.) Even the start of judiciary hearings might be enough to induce Trump to high-tail it out of there.
And that brings us to the possibility that Trump might decide he has had enough. With Trump, it’s not impossible to imagine that he could convince himself that he has accomplished more in nine months (!) than most presidents have in eight years. (Stick with me.) Leave on top – illegal immigration crossings down, stock market high, unemployment low. Why let the mainstream media, the special counsel and those darned coastal elites tear him down, badger his family, etc. ? Hand the baton to Pence, and let him implement all of the plans Trump has set in place. Win! Trump can then go brag about the millions he made off the presidency.
Republicans have not been able to wrap their heads around the idea of ditching Trump. Given recent events, if Republicans were given a secret ballot to choose Trump or Pence as president for the remainder of Trump’s term, Pence would surely win in a landslide. The “good” news is that Trump never thought he’d be president and is having a terrible time in the role. The trick is applying enough pressure, raising the prospect of impeachment or financial exposure so that he will conclude he can leave office before 2020 as a winner, and more important, keep his wealth intact and under wraps.