Friday, July 14, 2017


I don't believe Donald Trump can possibly be impeached until after a Democratic takeover of the House in the midterms, assuming that happens. I'm not sure it can happen even then, and in any case I don't think he can be convicted in a Republican Senate. I know there are those who disagree. -- they believe that there'll be a tipping point when the congressional GOP decides it's had enough of Trump. And I know that some people think Trump will become frustrated and quit early, though I believe he'll never give up the king-of-the-hill satisfaction of being president, even if he's miserable in the White House.

But in the unlikely event that the Trump leaves office early, our side isn't prepared for a continued fight against a very similar approach to policy -- and a much more skilled approach to being president -- in a Mike Pence presidency. A newly released Gallup poll hints at the problem:
Americans who disapprove of how Donald Trump is handling his job as president primarily base their views on his character and personality. By contrast, U.S. adults who disapproved of Barack Obama's job performance in July 2009, during his first year in office, focused mainly on his policies and stances on issues. In mid-2001, Americans who disapproved of George W. Bush were significantly more likely to explain their views with broad or general negative evaluations of his job performance.

The question was open-ended -- "Why do you disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job as president?" The majority of people in the survey who disapproved of Trump mentioned non-policy and non-performance issues, summarized by Gallup as "Not presidential/Bad temperament/Arrogant/Obnoxious," "Inexperienced/Doesn't know what he is doing," "Looking out for himself/Doesn't consider people's needs," "Use of social media/Twitter," and "Untrustworthy."

Do you see the problem here if Trump leaves office ahead of schedule? Anti-Trump anger isn't focused on policy -- it's focused on Trump. Specifically, it's focused on aspects of Trump's personality and demeanor that aren't perceived as aspects of Pence's personality and demeanor.

If Trump does go, the political and media establishment will want to rally around Pence. Chuck Todd and Joe Scarborough will want his ascension to the presidency to be a healing moment. His poll numbers are mediocre, but they aren't as negative as Trump's. I know there's evidence that he hasn't stood apart from the Trump sleaze. But I think that will be swept under the rug if Trump is going down.

Obviously, Russia is an issue on which Trump is not just awful but impeachable; on the other hand, maybe we're talking about it too much. As a new Huffington Post/YouGov survey notes,
Russia continues to rank relatively low on the public’s list of priorities. Twelve percent of Americans currently name Trump’s relationship with Moscow as one of the two issues most important to them, ranking it behind health care (49 percent), the economy (37 percent) and immigration (20 percent), and on par with the environment (13 percent) and the way things work in Washington (12 percent).
It's hard to pin Trump down on policy, of course -- as an AP story notes, Trump will take credit if a GOP health care bill passes, but he'll blame others if it fails. He's somehow not linked to the policies in a bill we know he'd be happy to sign. He's eager to put his name on a bill that drastically reduces coverage and raises out-of-pocket expenses, yet his backers still believe he wants to cover everyone for less cost.

That policy slipperiness makes it hard to pin any bad ideas on Trump or Pence. That should change, obviously, if Trump actually signs some GOP bills -- though it's easy to imagine Trump disowning bills he's signed, and blaming Democrats for bad outcomes. ("I wanted to cover everyone at less cost, but Democrats wouldn't bargain in good faith.")

So if Pence becomes president, the public would regard him as (a) not a compulsively tweeting man-child and (b) a policy blank slate. (People who care about politics know his record, but that's not most Americans.) The country would learn what he stands for soon enough -- but we'd be starting from scratch in fighting him, and we've seen that mild-mannered Koch/religious right wingnuts mange to win their next elections even when they govern from very far to the right -- think Scott Walker or Sam Brownback.

No matter who's president, we probably need to talk more about policy, and we need to hang every bad Republican idea around the neck of every Republican.

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