If part of your media diet consists of cable TV or the Internet, you may be inclined to believe that President Trump is already on his way out. “Trump Will Probably Be Impeached,” “How Trump Could Get Fired,” and “Will Trump Be Impeached or Resign?” are just a few of the more aggressively optimistic headlines to grace news outlets in recent weeks.
A recent USA TODAY/iMediaEthics poll revealed that 42 percent of Americans now support Trump’s removal from office. (Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling’s figures were much higher, with 47 percent of voters in July claiming they support Trump’s impeachment). These numbers map squarely onto the fact that Trump’s job approval can be currently characterized as “underwater”: 60 percent of voters believe the Trump administration is running chaotically, according to a July Politico/Morning Consult poll, and even right-leaning Rasmussen now scores the President’s approval rating at only 39 percent, a nadir for that polling agency.
As it turns out, media fantasies of 45’s abdication aren’t particularly new. “Could Trump Be Impeached Shortly After He Takes Office?” was the headline of an April 2016 Politico article, written before he was even named Republican nominee. Indeed, the constant theater of dysfunction within the White House, the despotic behavior of an administration besieged by crisis and the amateur-hour quality of his communications team invariably conjure an image of Rome burning to the ground. That said, I still think some of us are putting the cart well before the horse when it comes to this impeachment business.
First, it deserves to be asked: impeached by whom, exactly? The special counsel appointed by Trump’s Justice Department? Or a Republican Congress that’s getting everything it wants — from tax reform initiatives to a number of regulatory rollbacks — because of Trump? People are quick to compare Trump’s May firing of FBI Director James Comey to Nixon’s purging of the Justice Department in 1973, but what they fail to consider is that impeachment is an inherently political process; it happens when you can count to 218 in the House and 67 in the Senate. Nixon resigned because he did the math and saw what was coming, and those numbers simply don’t apply to Trump, and they never will unless — and only unless — he does something so damning that it a poses a grievous threat to Republicans’ Congressional majority and sacrifices their chances of maintaining the House in 2018. Considering the GOP is still winning special elections on his coattails as of a few months ago, my bet is that impeachment isn’t on the menu.
At least not yet. A far more likely scenario is that Trump begins hanging himself by his own rope, thereby isolating himself from the GOP in the process. In the end, it might not be Trump’s firing of Comey that leads special counsel Robert Mueller to the smoking gun, but the bombshell news that Trump had personally contrived Donald Trump Jr.’s misleading statements regarding his 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer to discuss damaging information on Hillary Clinton alongside son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, even though Trump’s lawyers unequivocally stated the President played no role in crafting that statement.
It’s a Shakespearean end to a drama if there ever was one, but what certainly isn’t helping is the reality TV façade of it all, the fact that when we watch the news anymore we feel compelled to think we’re witnessing an episode of “The Apprentice, White House Edition.” If it wasn’t Manafort or Michael Flynn’s undisclosed work for Russia-back companies, or Jared Kushner’s attempt to arrange secret meetings with Russia ambassador Sergey Kislyak, it’s the inveterate instability of the administration that underscores the trouble in which it now finds itself, a series of high-profile departures that now include the ouster of chief of staff Reince Priebus and resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer.
The absurdity reached its apogee with the short-lived reign of White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who tried to out-Trump Trump by vowing to fire the entire communications team and even resorted to publicly trash-talking his new colleagues, forcing Priebus off the ship in the process before, in a Swiftian twist of fate, Priebus’s replacement, John F. Kelly, fired him. Now Trump appears ready to vote attorney general Jeff Sessions off the island as well, presumably so he’ll be replaced with someone who’ll fire Mueller, or at least do more to protect Trump from the looming Russia investigations.
For the first six months of his presidency, the White House’s order of business had been to refine Trump’s actions into words that were palatable within the party. Now there seems to be an entirely new strategy: clear the cabinet of party loyalists and replace them with an incoming team of hardline sycophants who are willing to let Trump be Trump. They’ve gone from doing things by the book to burning the book.
What we’re now seeing is an inevitable, slow divorce between the White House and the Republican Party. If the disastrous recent attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act was Trump’s reminder of the legislative albatross that awaits, Congress’ recent Russia sanctions bill is the strongest indication yet that the Republican majority in Congress no longer trusts Trump, and they’re not willing to go down with the ship. We’re only six months in, and amid paralyzing scandals, souring relations with Russia and North Korea’s fast-track to developing a missile capable of reaching the West Coast, it’s now clear that Congressional Republicans are getting diminishing returns with their Commander in Chief. No one is getting what they want here, and the honeymoon appears to be over.