Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Gaming a presidency in tatters: "It's all downhill from here" - but what comes after?

In this post I ask two questions. Where is the Trump presidency headed? What will happen afterwards?

Where is the Trump presidency headed?

In answer to the first question, Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) offers a half dozen scenarios, each showing that This presidency can’t be saved. It’s all downhill from here.

In light of news reports that President Trump’s team is scouring the record for conflicts of interest on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team (the essence of chutzpah) and contemplating pardons (of aides and/or himself), it is worth considering how this may all play out.

We offer several scenarios:

  1. Trump orders Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire Mueller. Sessions quits, as does Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. Eventually someone agrees to fire Mueller. Republicans either will not pursue impeachment or are obliged to begin impeachment hearings but refuse to vote out articles of impeachment. In 2018, Democrats sweep to victory in the House and gain a seat or two in the Senate. Trump cannot be removed (two-thirds of the Senate is required for removal), but his presidency is in tatters. Some aides or ex-aides face criminal prosecution. LESSON: Republicans’ failure to stand up to Trump early dooms his presidency and crashes the GOP.

Scenarios 2 through 5 are variations. By way of summary, here are the lessons.

LESSON: Fire Mueller, and Congress will hire him back.
LESSON: Congress cannot delegate all responsibility to Mueller. It must conduct a parallel investigation and, if need be, commence impeachment proceedings.
LESSON: Congress must protect Mueller and preserve the possibility that Trump may be forced to resign.
LESSON: Congress must protect Mueller and pay the price for failure to oppose Trump’s nomination and election.

Is there a sixth scenario in which Mueller exonerates Trump? That’s the least likely outcome after Trump has fired former FBI director James B. Comey and threatened the special counsel. Why would he do those things unless there was something really, really bad to find? And if there is something bad, Mueller will find it. You can understand then why Trump sounds frantic. In no scenario does Trump’s presidency recover.

The various scenarios can be distilled into brief notes on possible futures: presidency in tatters, full blown constitutional crisis, resignation, impeachment.

Judging from the list of this president’s accomplishments (which is a null, empty list), I have to say that this presidency is in tatters. I think we are on the verge of a constitutional crisis because of the way the administration plays loose with the law; HHS for example is running videos against ACA, opposing Congress’ law using taxpayer money. As for the other scenarios, read Rubin’s article and judge for yourself about the likelihoods of resignation and/or impeachment.

If you see an alternative scenario in which Trump emerges from the fray to revitalize his presidency and eventually win re-election, please write and let me know the details (wsmaki@gmail.com). I’ll publish it here.

What happens next?

Here’s one I just ran into at Daily Kos following up on Rubin’s Scenario #4: Trump Loses Jennifer Rubin. Torpedo in the Water.

Jennifer Rubin’s ”Right Turn” column in The Washington Post was reliably partisan beyond reason during the Obama years, so it’s been a shock to see her turn sane and lawyer-like in her #nevertrump position. In fact she’s given up on Trump and turned naysayer against the GOP. Her prognostications for what comes next as the Mueller investigation unfolds offer a range of possibilities, all bad. Bet on this one [Rubin’s #4]:

Republicans join Democrats in warning Trump not to fire Mueller. Mueller remains and keeps digging. Mueller subpoenas damaging documents; Trump refuses to comply. A court orders him to comply. He declares this a witch hunt, an attack on his family (or whatever). Then he resigns, claiming he has already made America great. He tells the country that Vice President Pence will carry on in his place. LESSON: Congress must protect Mueller and preserve the possibility that Trump may be forced to resign.

That’s the most likely scenario because it’s to Trump’s advantage in the same way that this entire presidency has been, as a branding effort to promote his business. If he rejects subpoenas and defies the law he’s doing what he promised, fighting the evil Washington machine. If he leaves before a market correction he can allege that the spike in the Dow was his work; that he delivered on his promise to drive the Supreme Court rightward; that he gave the downtrodden Conservatives voters from both parties a real alternative; and that he is their martyr, their symbol of Making America Great Again despite all the efforts of the liars and partisans who forced him out. It’s a perfect narrative, assuming that his resignation actually offers him some defense against indictment, which is not guaranteed.

It leaves out what comes after, though, and that’s never wise with Trump. He lives to hit back. He’s already attacking the GOP for its insufficient “defense” of him in this case, demanding openly that they put him above the law. If Rubin’s scenario comes true, and Trump does leave, he’ll look for vengeance unfettered by whatever remains of his political restraint. A third party of Trumpist candidates hand-picked by Trump is a realistic possibility. They’ll run against the enemies Trump made in the deep red districts and force the GOP to accede to a Trumpist agenda or be defeated by it completely.

If Trump is forced out he’s a hot torpedo looking for a target. He’ll make revenge his life’s mission. Donald Jr. and his siblings will take up the mantle because there’s money to be made from political warfare. If they’re kingmakers instead of kings they can shelter themselves behind Far Right candidates, take huge money from political consultancies and influence peddling, and turn Conservatism into their business. Their properties and investments won’t suffer, and they’ll rebuild their fortresses of hidden deals and dark money. The GOP will be a sitting duck for them. The Trumps will do with the Republican Party what they do with any distressed property: take it over or tear it down it.

That reminded me of what I posted near the beginning of the 2016 election (March 6, 2016): The dawn of the American 3-party system: What the failure of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men means for America. Here are snippets.

What is unfolding in American politics has not been seen in over 100 years. And what is happening this year may never have been seen before. We are witnessing the division of one of our two major political parties with what amounts to a divorce between two factions. One is a traditionalist group (“establishment”) and the other is an awakened, psychologically distinct movement (“Authoritarians”). The distinction has its roots in psychological and political science research.

The big story [of the 2016 election] is the voters themselves. The assertion that “millions of GOP primary voters don’t seem to be listening” to “politicians of both parties, economists, pundits, business leaders” is flat-out wrong. They are listening and they do not like what they are hearing. The other assertion that “the Republican base has taken leave of its senses” is just as wrong. The part of the Republican base responsible for Trump’s lead in the polls and at the ballot box is perfectly sensible; they are just not well understood by the “politicians of both parties, economists, pundits, business leaders”. So who are those voters?

Of particular interest is that subset of mainly Republican voters who are called, for want of a better term, Authoritarians. They are not “Trumpist” and there is no “Trumpism” (even though I’ve used those terms myself). Those terms are candidate-centered and thus misleading about the underlying psychology. Those voters represent a movement that has gained voice through Trump. We are witnessing “The rise of American authoritarianism”. That’s the title of a review of research on Authoritarians by Amanda Taub at Vox.com …

Here are snippets from Taub’s review.

… Authoritarians may be a slight majority within the GOP, and thus able to force their will within the party, but they are too few and their views too unpopular to win a national election on their own.

And so the rise of authoritarianism as a force within American politics means we may now have a de facto three-party system: the Democrats, the GOP establishment, and the GOP authoritarians.

… although the latter two groups are presently forced into an awkward coalition, the GOP establishment has demonstrated a complete inability to regain control over the renegade authoritarians, and the authoritarians are actively opposed to the establishment’s centrist goals and uninterested in its economic platform.

For decades, the Republican Party has been winning over authoritarians by implicitly promising to stand firm against the tide of social change, and to be the party of force and power rather than the party of negotiation and compromise. But now it may be discovering that its strategy has worked too well — and threatens to tear the party apart.

Now, you can see, why I’ve capitalized Authoritarian. It is my way of elevating that group to the same status as Democrat and Republican.

Taub wraps up with this.

… authoritarianism reveals the connections between several seemingly disparate stories about American politics. And it suggest that a combination of demographic, economic, and political forces, by awakening this authoritarian class of voters that has coalesced around Trump, have created what is essentially a new political party within the GOP — a phenomenon that broke into public view with the 2016 election but will persist long after it has ended.

In the March 2016 post I predicted that we were witnessing the breakup of the GOP. In retrospect I was premature. I overlooked an important stage in that process.

Just a couple of days ago I posted on an article by Ruth Ben-Ghiat Trump’s authoritarian playbook revealed page by page in which she observed that “once political elites have concluded their deals with authoritarians and signed on publicly, they usually stick with those leaders to the bitter end.”

The “bitter end” is what is described in the Daily Kos post reviewed above.

My original (March 2016) prediction might yet come to pass: “… we are the audience in the theatre of history witnessing a centennial event.”

Addendum: GOP is a fractured party

The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa report that the Republicans are in full control of government — but losing control of their party. Their interviews with prominent Republicans suggest a party at war with itself - although the fault lines are phrased in different terms than what I used above.

Snippets follow.

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill have described the dynamic between the White House and GOP lawmakers as a “disconnect” between Republicans who are still finding it difficult to accept that he is the leader of the party that they have long controlled.

“The disconnect is between a president who was elected from outside the Washington bubble and people in Congress who are of the Washington bubble,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who works closely with the White House. “I don’t think some people in the Senate understand the mandate that Donald Trump’s election represented.”

Trump critics said the ongoing controversies over Russian interference in the 2016 election and probes into potential coordination with the president’s associates would make any improvement in relations all but impossible in the coming months, with many Republicans unsure whether Trump’s presidency will survive.

“The Russia stories never stop coming,” said Rick Wilson, a vocal anti-Trump consultant and GOP operative. “For Republicans, the stories never get better, either. There is no moment of clarity or admission.”

Wilson said Republicans are also starting to doubt whether “the bargain they made — that they can endure Trump in order to pass X or Y” — can hold. “After a while, nothing really works and it becomes a train wreck.”

Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate, said Trump’s battles with Republicans are unlikely to end and are entirely predictable, based on what Trump’s victory signified.

“His nomination and election were a hostile takeover of the vehicle of the Republican Party,” Stone said. He added, “When you talk to some Republicans who oppose Trump, they say they will keep opposing him but can’t openly say it.”

The broader burden, some Republicans say, is to overcome a dynamic of disunity in the party that predates Trump and the current Congress. During the Obama years, it took the form of tea party-vs.-establishment struggles, which in some cases cost Republicans seats or led them to wage risky political feuds.

“There was a separation between Republicanism and conservatism long before he won the White House,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “The glue has been coming apart since Reagan.”

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