Friday, May 19, 2017


I don't think we're going to be rid of President Trump anytime soon. The most promising investigation, that of special counsel Robert Mueller, will probably be slow and deliberate. If crimes are discovered, it's quite possible the culprits will be only the usual suspects -- Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone. Art of the Deal co-author Tony Schwartz may believe that Trump will resign if impeachment seems to be on the horizon, but we expected Trump to quit the presidential campaign on numerous occasions, and it never happened. And it's very hard to imagine Trump being convicted in a Republican-controlled Senate by a two-thirds majority after an impeachment, or having a 25th Amendment removal sustained by a two-thirds majority in both houses, after Trump inevitably exercises his right under the amendment to challenge removal. A two-thirds majority in the Senate means 19 Republicans have to vote against Trump -- can you think of 19 GOP senators who'd ever do that? Or nearly a hundred GOP House members if the 25th Amendment is invoked?

But okay, let's imagine that we do rid ourselves of Trump. Should we worry about Mike Pence as president?

The New Republic's Jeet Heer, acknowledges that Pence, "a creature of the religious right, would be a terrible president, although in ways different than Trump." But he thinks we shouldn't be afraid of a Pence presidency:
It’s possible Pence would enjoy a honeymoon after taking office, with most Democrats and many Republicans grateful to see Trump gone, but it would be only a honeymoon. President Gerald Ford’s brief period of grace after taking over for Richard Nixon in 1974 ended when he pardoned his predecessor. Once Pence tried to implement his agenda, Democrats would remember Pence’s complicity in helping Trump become president. Indeed, Democrats would have readymade 2020 ads showing Pence praising his now-disgraced former boss.
Yes, but a lot of Democratic/liberal energy, among the public and in Congress, is going to dissipate if Trump is ousted. The political Establishment, across the spectrum, will be desperate for a normalization of politics after Trump. The public, alas, will probably be ready to embrace Pence as a healing figure (he's regarded more favorably than unfavorably in every major poll taken since Election Day). And while Richard Nixon was widely regarded as a blight on America by the time of his resignation -- his approval rating was in the twenties -- it's quite possible that Trump's base will never acknowledge that he's done wrong. His approval rating may always remain at 38% or higher -- that seems to be his floor. So a significant percentage of Americans won't see Pence as the head of a party tainted by a reprehensible disgraced president, because they won't believe Trump was disgraced.

But will the GOP be too divided to govern? Heer thinks so:
Nor would there be widespread support for Pence among Republicans. Though he’s a more conventional Republican, he will inherit a party that is even more fractured than it is now. Trump has had a hard time governing not only because of his own ignorance and blundering, but because there’s nothing holding the Republican Party together other than hatred of the Democrats.
Um, that's like saying there was nothing holding Nazi Germany together other than hatred of non-Aryans. For the GOP, hatred of Democrats counts for a lot.

Heer continues:
There is no unity of purpose between the House Freedom Caucus, the House moderates, and GOP senators. As president, Pence will have much in common with mainstream Republicans but he will find, as Obama and Trump did before him, that a small number of far-right congressmen can sabotage legislation.
Um, Pence is a far-right Republican. And the unbridgeable GOP gap Heer is describing really might be limited to health care, because many non-Freedom Caucus Republicans now see the appeal of Obamacare reforms to their own voters. On tax cuts, budgeting, social issues, and defense, I don't think there's nearly as much disagreement.
Trump’s impeachment would indeed create a new faction in the party: the disaffected Trumpists. Consider the Obama-to-Trump voters who made a difference in the 2016 election: white working class people who normally distrust Republicans like Mitt Romney, but took a chance on Trump because of his populist message. How would they feel about a Republican Party that impeaches Trump and gives them Pence instead? They’d think, quite rightly, that they’ve been betrayed. It’s likely they’d sit out the next election or return to the Democrats.
I fear that Pence would be shrewd enough to signal to the Trump base that he's not abandoning the Trump agenda. He'll say he ran in 2016 to create jobs and make the country safe, and he still believes in those goals. He'll talk about securing the border -- maybe he'll still back the wall! -- and he'll talk about an economy that puts American jobs first. If he dog-whistles to Obama-then-Trump voters that he's carrying the flag of Trumpism, they might stick with him -- even as the rest of the political world expresses relief at his good manners, his ability to put together a functioning administration, and his lack of interest in Twitter.

I think he could be like first-term George W. Bush -- acceptable to swing voters (maybe soccer moms will like his marriage) even as he signals to Trump voters and the GOP base that he's their president specifically.

If you're wondering: No, I don't believe Pence will be brought down by Russiagate. The Establishment will want everything to be okay, so claims that he wasn't aware of inappropriate doings will be accepted at face value.

So, yes, be afraid of a possible Pence presidency -- although don't expect one in the near future.

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