I don’t have a crystal ball, but I find the following scenario increasingly plausible. Let me begin by giving away the punch-line: When Robert Mueller’s report comes out, the Republican leadership will quickly huddle, and tell Trump that he needs to resign or face impeachment.
Why is this prediction other than wishful thinking? For starters, Trump could not do a better job of alienating the Republicans in Congress, who he needs to save his bacon, if it were his deliberate plan.
He insults Mitch McConnell personally. Then he makes separate deals with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, first on the debt extension, then on the Dreamers, and next quite likely on taxes.
The far-right base is enraged at Trump as never before. Breitbart has become an anti-Trump screed.
Congressional Republicans never liked Trump (the feeling was reciprocal — just ask Little Marco or Lyin’ Ted). But Trump and the Republicans figured they could use each other. That didn’t work out so well. Not much remains of the marriage.
Despite the Republican majority in both houses of Congress, the GOP is so badly split that they can’t manage to deliver either their own priorities — or Trump’s. Obamacare lives. The Dreamers are likely to avoid deportation. Trump is so desperate to get something that he can call tax reform that he could well make a deal with Schumer and Pelosi that avoids cutting taxes on the rich.
Trump is out of patience with McConnell, Ryan, the Freedom Caucus, and the whole Republican crew. They simply can’t deliver. He never was much a partisan Republican, and now he’s sniffing around the Democrats. It’s Trump’s version of what Bill Clinton called “triangulation.”
Second, Schumer and Pelosi are part of Trump’s tribe — big city east coast ethnics — the kind of people Trump has made deals with all of his adult life. They remind him of his lawyers, his bankers, his developers and real estate cronies.
Pelosi is from an Italian family in Baltimore. Chuck Schumer is from Jewish Brooklyn. Better yet, they can deliver. Their caucus is unified. They are Trump’s kind of deal-maker.
McConnell and Ryan are not part of Trump’s tribe at all, and they keep tripping over each other and their fellow Republicans. They are rubes.
Now it would make political sense for Trump to switch camps and do business with the Democrats, were it for one small detail. He has already committed several impeachable offenses. Firing FBI Director Comey, after he failed to heed Trump’s request to go easy on former national security director Michael Flynn, all by itself is obstruction of justice. And Mueller soon will have a great deal more.
So when Mueller’s report is tendered, there will be no partisan reservoir of goodwill left to cause Republicans to rally to Trump’s defense. Democrats, never mind their deals on the budget or on taxes or on DACA, will immediately file a bill of impeachment — leaving Republicans in an election year to decide whether to defend a president who is clearly damaged goods and whom they detest.
Whether the Republican leadership sends Trump that message to resign or be impeached will depend on one thing: their calculation of whether they are better off with Vice President Pence becoming president.
And here is where things get really interesting. If you had posed that question a month ago, they might well have decided that they are better off sticking with Trump, for two reasons. First, the hardcore base is still loyal to Trump. And second, Trump has threatened to support primary challengers against Republicans who are disloyal to him.
But that was a month ago, before Trump started doing deals with Schumer and Pelosi, and before he enraged the base by going soft on the dreamers. To hear Breitbart tell it, Trump should be wearing a scarlet A, for Amnesty.
So by the time Mueller’s report comes out, there will be more reasons for Republicans to dump Trump and fewer reasons to keep him. The anti-immigrant base is already beginning to defect. Trump will have far less leverage to run primary opponents against Republicans if he is no longer president. Better to have close to a year to regroup under President Pence.
Would Trump go quietly if confronted with such a threat? Maybe not quietly, but he’d go. An impeachment would spread on the public record, over several agonizing months, all the slimy details of Trump’s tax history and tawdry business deals, which he has tried so hard to keep secret. Remember, this is a guy whose highest loyalty is to his brand.
As I said, I don’t have a crystal ball, but this scenario becomes more likely by the day. You might wonder: why, then, does Trump go out of his way to alienate the Republicans in Congress, when they are the one thing standing between him and impeachment or forced resignation?
You may have noticed that clear thought is not exactly Trump’s strong suit; that the man is given to impulsive, narcissistic, reckless behavior that doesn’t always serve his self-interest.
The ancient Greeks liked to say that character is fate. As Trump’s hubris begins to do him in ― as we approach the last act of this tragicomedy ― never was that observation more true.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His latest book is Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.
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