We are slouching to civil separation, less costly than divorce, but bad for the children.
The President of the United States faces investigation by independent counsel Robert Mueller. There are four possible outcomes for the investigation. Sadly, none of them appear to leave us with a civil (or even normal) 2020 election. Blame anybody you wish, but Mr. Trump’s public acts and opposition to Mr. Trump both have been unusual, loud, and angry.
What do I see coming?
First, the President could attempt to fire Mr. Mueller.
Mr. Trump faces an odd political dynamic. He has a solid core of forty-percent of the public that is convinced that a “resistance” has done everything possible to delegimitmize Mr. Trump, even before he was inaugurated. This is sensible, since the “resistance” openly declared it would do nothing to “normalize” the behavior of Mr. Trump. The establishment in both parties plainly loath the President.
If the President tries to fire Mr. Mueller, we will have a Constitutional crisis. What are the limits of the pardoning power? How much control does the President have over the Justice Department?
Unlike Watergate, where President Nixon retained little support in his own Party establishment and when most Republican voters (even if reluctantly) accepted he had to go, Mr. Trump is loved by some voters in the Party and supported by the vast majority. The perception amongst millions that he has gotten a raw deal (fair or not) is widespread. These voters will never accept that Mr. Trump was removed legitimately. Mr. Trump, unlike Mr. Nixon, has not shown any deference to any group of Party elders who could turn him from his chosen course.
The resistance and (sometimes) over the top rhetoric to every action of the Trump Administration has hardened lines. There is not much center left.
I do not think anyone knows what would happen if Mr. Trump fires Mr. Mueller. It is easy to imagine a bare majority of the House voting to impeach the President. At least some Republican senators would vote to remove Mr. Trump from office if Trump fires Mueller. It would, however, take sixty to remove the President and it is hard to imagine getting to that number even after the 2018 elections.
This crisis would consume our conversation.
Second, the President could be (mostly) exonerated by Mr. Mueller.
We know that the President is not at present a target of the investigation personally. Mr. Mueller could find that while some members of his team were (especially as relates to Ukraine) dirty (see the excreble Paul Manafort), the President was not involved in collusion with the Russians. In fact, this seems likely to me given what we know now.
If this happens, then hard Resistance will turn on Mr. Mueller, but the middle of the road voters will assume Trump has been exonerated. This will be true even if Mr. Mueller rebukes the President for carelessness. If this happens, then Mr. Trump is an even odds candidate for 2020 as the incumbent assuming the economy remains strong.
However, a vast numbers of Americans, at least forty percent, would be very angry at this result. Could the Democratic leadership hold off demands for impeachment assuming they have the House in 2019? There would at least be many investigations of the President that would consume our discourse.Third, Mr. Mueller could find insufficient evidence of Russian collusion, but have bumped into other “dirt” on Mr. Trump.
Mueller may have uncovered unrelated misdoings by the President and his many businesses. Mr. Starr discovered that President Clinton had perjured himself over issues unrelated to the original White Water investigation. Perjury is serious and Mr. Clinton was impeached and disbarred as a result. He was not, however, removed from office, because a majority of Americans were convinced that Mr. Starr had overstepped.
Clinton survived, in part, because the media environment of the time was much friendlier. He received favorable coverage from mainstream media and there was not much alternative sources for news. Mr. Trump will not get this treatment.
If the dirt is personal, then Mr. Trump will retain his forty-percent, but go into 2020 much weakened. He also would face legal risk unless he tested his pardon powers.
Fourth, Mr. Mueller could find evidence of Russian collusion by Mr. Trump.
If this happens, then Congress would almost surely impeach the President assuming Mr. Mueller’s evidence is solid. I would assume that like Mr. Nixon, Trump would resign to avoid being the first President of the United States removed from office by the Senate.
The Bottom Line: If Trump is removed by Mueller, we have a crisis. If Trump removes Mueller, we have a crisis. Opposition to Trump should avoid impeachment and look to 2020.
A large number of voters would stick with Mr. Trump after he was removed. This could be the majority of Republican primary voters who would think the President was ousted. Could he run again? Could a President removed from office return? I assume he would not win such an election, but then I did not think Mr. Trump would win in 2016.
The opposition has overplayed its hand and alienated a swath of voters that might have abandoned the President. The rhetoric on issues like the tax cut has simply been too overwrought and that is no longer likely to happen.
Mueller’s investigation is not trusted by millions of Americans, just as Ken Starr’s was not under Clinton.
Bottom Line: Opinons about the fairness of the system and Mr. Trump are so polarized that if Mr. Trump is removed from office, the legitimacy of the system will be questioned by a large group of Americans for decades. If you oppose Mr. Trump, and support the health of the Republic, then you should hope that Mr. Trump runs and loses in 2020 (fair and square). If you support Mr. Trump, then you trust that Mr. Mueller will do the right thing, will follow the evidence where it leads, and look forward to a contest over these issues in 2020.
The Trump administration should not be ended without an election. The “victory” by the resistance in removing Mr. Trump by other Constitutional means would not be worth the civil turmoil. Mr. Trump is more popular than many people believe. Only a bare majority disapprove of his job in office. Given the social situation, this is amazing and must be taken into consideration. A great many Americans dislike Mr. Trump personally and like much of the policies of the administration.
I believe Mr. Trump could win re-election if the election were held this Fall and if the Democrats nominate a candidate of the far left. We are nearing a Constitutional crisis as people for and against Trump cease to trust our institutions to deal equitably.