In the cascade of Trumpish news, one story stands out. The withdrawal under fire by Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder is a canary in the coal mine. The indications are not good news for Trump. It’s not the lefty Dems who are taking aim, it’s traditional conservatives. With an agenda and the power to make him disappear.
There have been missteps aplenty: Flynn, Putin, the immigration exec order, junking the two-state solution, the Ivanka/Nordstrom’s hoohah, Bannon and the alt-right. It’s a target rich environment. As much as Trump wants to blame lefty politics, questions of competence and integrity keep flaring up, and Republicans are edging away from him.
In a traditional political analysis, Trump can’t sustain the current trend. But traditional political analyses failed miserably when applied to Trump last year and there’s no evidence they’re still valid now. There’s no evidence that all the missteps have cost him support from the folks who voted for him. It’s stirred up the same people who never liked him, but the base seems intact.
Comes the Puzder debacle. He was a bad choice to lead a department committed to protecting workers rights. And there was a spate of personal and political vulnerabilities that kept growing. But his demise was caused by a strange set of conservative defections from the Trump coalition.
Breitbart hated his support for foreign workers. The National Review hated it even more and called for his defeat. A large bloc of traditional conservative Republicans (Thune-SD, Portman-Ohio, Tillis-NC, Isakson-Georgia, Scott-SC) were opposing him.
Now other mainstream conservatives are picking fights. John McCain is loudly opposing the confirmation of Rep. Mickey Mulvaney as Budget Director. Bob Corker wants an investigation into the Russian Connection. House right-wingers are piling on Flynn and pushing for repeal of Obamacare now.
It’s becoming a pattern. Some of it is the genuine fear of Trump as unbalanced. Some of it is the knowledge that Trump is an unreliable ally for the slash Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare, undo gay rights, no federal infrastructure Movement Conservatives. They were never comfortable with him, and his departure would cause no tears.
The organized Right wants a President Pence. He’s calmer, less vulnerable to political challenge, linked to corporate and Wall Street interests, a social reactionary and ideologically in tune with House Republican/Freedom Caucus colleagues.
The mechanics of the Pence ascendancy are unclear. There are two choices, resignation or impeachment. The preferred departure is a resignation spurred by scandal and setback, but rooted in Trump’s clear unhappiness with the day to day grind of being President. But if necessary, impeachment is not impossible. Keep an eye on the Russian investigations. If there are revelations reaching to Trump, things will proceed.
For Democrats, this is a mixed blessing at best. First, there are real legal questions as to whether bad conduct prior to becoming president constitutes an impeachable offense. That’s not a road anyone wants to go down.
Second, there’s every reason to believe that Pence will be worse than Trump on issues, and better than Trump in getting things done. Remember Harriet Meirs? She was the White House Counsel and the original nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. She had real limitations but she was no reactionary ideologue. Dems pummeled her and she withdrew. The replacement? Samuel Alito.
For Republicans, this kind of coup will enrage the Trump voter who swung the election. Without these folks Republicans can’t win again.
The message for both parties is clear: President Pence? Be careful what you wish for.
In the short run watch for more Republican Movement Conservatives lining up on Trump. Whether Trump can punch back against the Right is an open question. But he’s put his presidency into play by a series of missteps and idiocies, and the folks who want him impeached or resigned are starting to emerge. Something important this way comes.