17 July 2018

The Trump end-game

Two new factors in our politics are working together to weaken Trump more seriously than ever before in the year-and-a-half history of this misbegotten parody of an administration.  One is undermining him among Republican party leaders, the other among his base -- and together they may give our country its best chance yet to get this absurd and vicious man out of office at last.

The former, of course, is Trump's craven press conference in Helsinki on Monday, which is inspiring horrified condemnation from prominent figures across the political spectrum.  For a collection of such reactions, see here; for responses from Republicans only, see here and here.  Many of the latter are timidly phrased, in keeping with the abject cowardice which has distinguished most Republican leaders when dealing with Trump ever since the 2016 primaries.  But they're there, and the much tougher statements of McCain and Flake -- who can speak more freely because they will never again have to fear the votes of enraged Trumpanzees -- doubtless reflect what others are thinking.

The other factor is Trump's trade war, which is starting to inflict some serious pain on some of those same Trumpanzees.  I gave examples in the last link round-up, from Tennessee and South Dakota, as well as the fact of Trump being branded an "economic traitor" in the pages -- well, pixels -- of Forbes.  This trend will escalate.  The countries Trump has attacked with tariffs, which include Canada, Mexico, China, western Europe, and Japan, are being smart and targeting their retaliatory measures at the red states specifically, because they know that only the Republicans who represent those states can bring Trump to heel.  This trade war is between red America and the rest of the world -- blue America is neutral.  It will be easy for the rest of the world to continue to target the red states, because they are heavily agricultural, and today the world has a glut of food production capacity relative to global population.  The countries to which red America exports food products can easily find other suppliers; it will be much harder for red America to find replacement markets.

This offers a potential lifeline to our endangered red-state Democratic Senators this November; some are already making opposition to the trade wars an issue.  It may even shift a few House races our way in the red states.

As for the Republican leaders, there's been plenty of anecdotal evidence that most of them dislike Trump -- he's insulted and humiliated them plenty, after all -- but stand with him in public for fear of losing the Trumpanzee votes they need to stay in office.  If trade-war losses erode that base support for Trump, just as leaders' alarm at his degraded performance in Helsinki stiffens their spines, then more of them may come around to accepting the need to get rid of him -- enough to make a real difference.  If Mueller's final report shows real evidence of collusion with Russia, and they get walloped with a massive blue wave in November, Trump's position will become even weaker.

If a large cohort of Congressional Republicans turns against Trump, will we see him impeached and removed?  It's possible, but I think a Nixonian scenario is more likely.  Yes, Trump is the kind of guy who would prefer to fight impeachment tooth and nail, doing further damage to the government in the process.  But if a delegation of Senators were to meet with him privately and point out the likely consequences for him if he were removed and prosecuted for whatever Mueller can prove he did both in office and before, and offer a full pardon from Pence if he steps down without a fight, he might take the deal.

A couple of potential wild cards should be mentioned.  First, we should be prepared for the possibility of some kind of incident manufactured either by a cornered Trump or by the Russians right before November, with the aim of shifting the election outcome -- a staged terrorist attack or cyber-attack, for example.  The intent would be to scare voters into rallying around Trump and by extension his party.  I doubt it would work, and for the Russians to do such a thing would be hugely reckless given the consequences if it were traced back to them.  But it may happen.

Second, there's the ultimate nightmare scenario.  If Trump feels threatened enough and angry enough, might he go for the whole enchilada -- suspend the Constitution, declare martial law, try to establish an outright dictatorship?  I can't judge how likely it is that he'd attempt that, but I don't believe he could succeed.  Most Republicans in positions of power would not support such a move -- they've all seen how quickly he turns against allies as soon as they displease him in some way, and not even the most Trump-loyal Republicans would feel truly safe in the long term if Trump held unconstrained power.  Also, it would require at least the passive acquiescence of the military, who are sworn to defend the Constitution -- and if you don't feel you can count on that, remember that much of the rank and file of the military is black or Hispanic.

Finally, some on our own side are actually leery of impeachment because they believe Pence would be worse than Trump.  I hope that the last couple of months have dispelled that notion.  Yes, Pence is a religious extremist and might be worse than Trump in certain areas of domestic policy, but he's also more of a conventional politician and would be unlikely to make gross blunders like starting an economy-wrecking trade war or giving the Kim regime everything it wanted in exchange for essentially nothing.  Even before Helsinki, Trump's subservience to Russian interests led some to conclude that Putin must be manipulating him via some kind of blackmail.  That wouldn't be the case with Pence.  Nor does Pence share Trump's impulsiveness and belligerence which pose the worst threat of all.  And he'd be presiding over a Republican party left bitterly divided by the fall of Trump.

This last year and a half have been nightmarish, and there's certainly further nastiness to come.  But we may soon get the chance to show that American democracy can confront and overcome the biggest challenge it has faced since the Civil War.

[Image at top found here; image at end found via Calvin]


Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

I like your trade war analysis in particular. Trump's unjustified trade tariffs are economic bullying, pure and simple.

17 July, 2018 10:50  
Anonymous NickM said...

I broadly agree with your view and your analysis. Especially about Pence.

I watched "The Wonderful Putin's Ventriloquist Act" aghast and almost spilled my Coke. FFS. Get a room you two! Jesus Christ it was embarrassing (and I'm English). The damage Trump is doing with what would appear to be reckless, childish abandon to his relations with historical firm friends of the USA such as the UK (& EU) etc is awesome enough without compounding it by then holding a love-in with a guy who is essentially a dictator. (DINO?)

Trump - give him his due - did get something out of his grovelling. He got a soccer ball! He sold the USA (the USA!) and it's mates down the river but at least he can have a kick-about. For decades we have striven (with no small expenditure of sweat and blood) to create free-ish, fair-ish societies by and large (it's a work in progress - what isn't?) and a jumped-up sideshow freak unzips his fly and just pisses on it.

The last time I felt this betrayed was when my gf went off with a bloke from Macclesfield in '94. Forget about building walls Trump because the USA has some fences to mend...

17 July, 2018 12:50  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't see Trump resigning just because Republican leaders tell him he has to. The Republican party was a mess long ago, which allowed Trump to step in. The Republicans could go from majority to obscurity in a very short time. Mitch has to stop rubber stamping Trump's insanity and become a real leader, but I doubt that will happen.

17 July, 2018 15:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Debra: Not only that, they're incompetent bullying. He's picking an unwinnable fight with basically the whole rest of the world.

Nick: The next President will have a lot of work to do to mend those fences.

Brad: Obviously the only way it would work would be if they have a sufficiently dire threat -- impeachment, trial, and imprisonment -- to more or less force him to take the alternative.

17 July, 2018 17:03  
Anonymous PsiCop said...

Sadly, I don't see the Groper-in-Chief losing standing within his own "base," which is around 1/3 of the country. Keep in mind, it's a key electorate, with a sufficient footprint in the right states to command the Electoral College. They elected him in 2016 and if they hold together, will re-elect him in 2020. He doesn't need anyone else, and no matter how much any of the other 2/3 of the country hates him, he's still a shoo-in.

At any rate, his approval ratings have moved up and down marginally, but have never collapsed, no matter what idiotic stunt he's pulled. The childish tweets, the incoherent speeches, the repeated self-contradictions, none of it has really changed the affection the seething masses of his enraged fanbois have for him. He always has the ultimate out, which they all buy into (having been primed for it for c. 3-4 decades by Right-wing media and talk radio), and that is, "fake news."

Sure, a lot of GOPers spoke out about his asinine behavior in Helsinki ... but that's just posturing for the media. When all is said and done, you can rest assured, they will not do the slightest thing to him. They're all slaves to the same electorate that put him where he is and will keep him there. That's no coincidence; they cooperated with the Right-wing media and talk radio over the last few decades to build up that electorate and inoculate them against any correction.

Just watch. The GiC, his minions in the White House, his friends at Fox News, and all the major GOPers will soon go back to discrediting the Mueller investigation and railing against "media bias." They have no choice. They have an electorate to satisfy and entertain; without them, they're doomed. So they can do nothing else.

We're now at the mercy of c. 1/3 of the country which is infantile and sanctimoniously outraged about minorities, immigrants, the media, and a whole raft of other bogeymen. They run the show, because for the last several decades the American Right put them in that position ... and it's not going to change any time soon.

17 July, 2018 22:15  
Anonymous NickM said...

Infidel, Brad,
You mean moving Trump from one federally owned building to another...

18 July, 2018 02:06  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

PsiCop: We'll see. I linked to examples of Trump supporters turning against him because of the effects of the tariffs. It's different when they themselves are suffering serious economic harm rather than just seeing other people get harmed. As for the politicians, as I said, they're constrained by fear of the base. If base opinion shifts, so will they.

Nick: One with considerably less scope for golf outings.

18 July, 2018 04:54  
Blogger Martha said...

I keep wondering how far he will go and how far his supporters will let him go. And just when I think it can't get any worse, it does. This is a nightmare that many hope will end sooner rather than later.

18 July, 2018 07:04  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

Your comments about Mike Pence highlight the vital importance that, if the sanity still exists to impeach Trump, it be done solely on the basis of his having seized the White House through treasonous collaboration with a foreign country, rather than the hundred other totally valid reasons he has given us. This is because only an impeachment on that basis will be equally disqualifying of Pence, enabling us to demand the removal of both of them at once.

18 July, 2018 08:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Martha: I don't believe he'll serve out a full term. Even if he gets through the blowback from Helsinki and the trade wars, he'll do something else and get in even more trouble. It's just in his nature.

Green: Good point. Of course, removing Pence too means that Paul Ryan -- or whoever is Speaker by then -- would become President. Between Pence and Ryan, I'm not sure who would be worse. Ryan strikes me as more capable, which is not good considering he'd be pushing his Ayn Rand ideology on the country.

If impeachment happened after this year's election and the Speaker was a Democrat who therefore became President, that would be the best outcome, but it would also make Senate Republicans less likely to vote for conviction on Trump and Pence -- and since getting 67 Democratic Senators this November is a mathematical impossibility, we'd still need some of them.

The ideal would be if a Democratic-run House chose Hillary Clinton as Speaker (it doesn't need to be a member of the House) and then Trump and Pence were removed, thus finally negating the stolen election and implementing the actual will of the voters in 2016. That could charitably be described as a long shot, though.

18 July, 2018 09:22  
Blogger Adam said...

And yet the Trump cult still defends him while screaming "Hillary....uranium...something!"

18 July, 2018 13:27  
Blogger Professor Chaos said...

McCain, Flake, Corker, et al may wag their fingers and cluck their tongues about Trump's fealty to Putin, but not a one of them will ever place a vote against him. They will all vote en masse to confirm the outrageous Brett Kavanaugh and every judicial monstrosity that the Federalist Society tells Trump to place on the lower courts. They are worse than useless, good riddance.

18 July, 2018 16:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Adam, Professor: Well, as I said, I explained my reasons for thinking some of them may not do so this time.

18 July, 2018 16:49  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Great analysis, but as long as #45 holds onto his base (Republicans give him 70% support, but I don't know what it is after Helsinki), Trump will feel secure enough to do more damage and to continue to act stupidly and recklessly.

It doesn't bode well for our democracy that he's still very popular with a considerable segment of America's population, and worse, Congressional leaders.

18 July, 2018 17:08  
Blogger Les Carpenter said...

Exercising the 25th Amendment Section IV would be ideal. Quicker, less costly, and decisive. Of course this would require 13 cabinet members and the Vice President to show sterling character and integrity. Definitely not likely with Pence the dutiful puppet and likely the 13 either.

This is going to be a long and very slow grind.

18 July, 2018 17:36  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: Thanks. Helsinki won't make any difference to the base; the trade wars will (see links in the post).

Rational: I suppose that's possible, but frankly I think Republicans in Congress are more likely to come around (if Trump loses enough base support) than the Cabinet is.

19 July, 2018 03:27  
Anonymous NickM said...

A bit OT but it might be of interest...


19 July, 2018 06:08  
Blogger Kevin Robbins said...

Thanks for the nice post. I'd seen the Tennessee and South Dakota collateral damage of the easy to win trade war. There's also a nail factory in Missouri that's been badly mauled because of the tariffs on Mexican steel I believe.

Call me vindictive, but I can't get behind the idea of a full pardon in any case. I suppose it might be for the best, but still my dream is a Democratic Congress that puts severe limits on the damage. He loses in 2020 and the indictments are unsealed in January of 2021. There may be some details in that to be worked out.

On impeachment, Jonathan Alter had a piece up calling censure a much better alternative at least in the short term. I know my candidate has not been calling for impeachment and I'm happy about that. To me, that may give credence to the whole witch hunt nonsense. Down the road after the Mueller results if it's warranted seems sensible. It'll be interesting to see how this unfolds, in any case.


20 July, 2018 09:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: Thanks, that will be in the next link round-up.

Kevin: I'd hate so see Trump escape punishment, but it's a sacrifice I'd be willing to make if it gets him out of office faster.

I think censuring Trump would have no effect at all. He would ignore it just as he ignores all other criticism. The imperative is to get him out of power. Remember, he's dangerously impulsive and belligerent and he controls the nuclear arsenal. Every day he remains in the Presidency potentially endangers millions of people.

20 July, 2018 12:40  
Blogger Kevin Robbins said...

Yes, avoiding nuclear annihilation probably does outweigh retribution for, what are in comparison, petty crimes.

20 July, 2018 13:01  
Blogger Les Carpenter said...

You're probably right Infidel. His cabinet probably has more loyalty to the Orange Turd than they do to the founding ideals and democracy.

22 July, 2018 16:39  

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