Alan Zendell, September 27, 2019
Donald Trump rocketed to power by arousing a base of support that was angry – at the policies of Barack Obama, at everyone on welfare and Medicaid, at the growing non-white population, at immigrants they were told were stealing their jobs and raping their daughters, and at the Congress. He did what he does best, lying, exaggerating, obfuscating, bullying, and generally behaving shamelessly.
Trump dismantled the Republican Party and forced out the centrists and virtually anyone who might cross the aisle and work through the partisan divide. He was successful because each of his Republican rivals was focused only on his own short-term self-interest, which allowed Trump to pick them off one at a time like a lion stalking a herd of zebras in the savanna.
Fear of Trump’s base and frustration with partisan gridlock caused dozens of Representative and Senators to voluntarily leave Congress. At no point since Trump announced his candidacy in 2015 have any of them attempted to form a meaningful coalition to counter him, and the Republican survivors of the President’s assault on decency and bipartisan cooperation learned that they could only endure by proclaiming fealty to the would-be emperor.
Throughout the year-long lead up to Speaker Pelosi’s decision to pursue a full-blown impeachment inquiry, the general perception was that impeachment was extremely risky for Democrats because the majority Republican Senate would never vote to convict, and a failed impeachment would only embolden Trump’s base. I believed that until yesterday.
I’ve always thought the most likely Trump defeat scenario was one in which he destroyed himself. Surely, one day his ego and disregard for law and the Constitution would cause him to cross a line even his terrified fellow Republicans couldn’t accept. It was inevitable, but would it happen in time to assure that he would be a one-term President?
When Mitch McConnell allowed a unanimous Senate vote to pursue an investigation of the Whistleblower Complaint last week, we sensed a sea change on the horizon. While almost all of his Senate caucus has either been publicly supportive of Trump or remained silent, it was clear that something else was happening behind the scenes. Former Ohio Governor and 2016 Trump rival John Kasich said McConnell would only have made that decision if he knew that a number of Senators would leave the reservation if he didn’t.
Senators were becoming nervous. They had all tied their re-election chances and their ability to hold their majority in the Senate to Trump’s success. They couldn’t squelch an investigation and risk having bombshell evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing explode during the 2020 election campaign. To underline their concern, Conservative outlets like The Washington Examiner took the emerging cracks in Republican support for Trump seriously enough to repeat the warning issued by Mike Murphy, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.
Murphy predicted that if the Democrats forced the Republican Senate into a yes-no vote on removing Trump from office, at a minimum they would lose Cory Gardner (CO), Susan Collins (ME), and Martha McSally (AZ). Both Murphy and former Senator Jeff Flake (AZ) said they’d been told privately that if the Senate vote were conducted anonymously, thirty of the fifty-three Republicans would vote to oust Trump. Combined with the forty-five Democrats and two Independents, the total would far exceed the sixty-seven votes needed to convict. That’s both encouraging and embarrassing. The idea that thirty Republican Senators want Trump gone but will only say so if they don’t have to stand up and identify themselves tells us all we need to know about the jeopardy we’re in as a nation.
The reality is that all the pressure Nancy Pelosi was under to make a decision on impeachment has shifted to the Republicans in the Senate. Motivated by self-interest, they can’t afford to wait too long to decide whether to support Trump’s bid for re-election. They have to make up their minds before the end of this year if they expect to replace him with a viable candidate in time for the primary season.
Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld have already announced that they will challenge Trump next year. But we’re all aware that the most viable Republican challenger, John Kasich, is waiting in the wings licking his chops, ready to graciously accept the invitation to jump into the race.
Trump doesn’t do himself any favors with events like his impromptu press conference on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews yesterday. Ranting and looking as if he was about dissemble completely, inventing new conspiracy theories on the fly, he must have scared the hell out of the very Senators he may soon depend on to keep him in office.
This Fall should be great theater.