Saturday 21 September 2019

Megan McArdle: 'Is this the beginning of the end for Trump's presidency?'

'The danger to President Trump is obvious: that prosecutors will tie him to offences serious enough to warrant impeachment.'
'The danger to President Trump is obvious: that prosecutors will tie him to offences serious enough to warrant impeachment.'

Megan McArdle

Last Friday, federal prosecutors dropped two bombshells. First, the US attorney for the southern district of New York filed a sentencing memo regarding Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, stating as a fact the president himself had been involved with hush-money payments to two women with whom he'd allegedly had affairs. Second, special counsel Robert Mueller's office issued a document saying Mr Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had lied to prosecutors even after agreeing to cooperate.

For those hoping to watch the administration fall, the documents added to the mounting pile of tantalising hints at that possibility. But it is still a very long way from these documents to the president's door, and the journey is likely to be perilous for all involved.

The danger to Mr Trump is obvious: that prosecutors will tie him to offences serious enough to warrant impeachment - and that the Democrats who take control of the House in January will quickly oblige. Even if Mr Trump manages to hold onto enough Republican votes in the Senate to avoid being removed from office, the process is likely to be humiliating.

Impeachment would also be dangerous for Senate Republicans. Majority leader Mitch McConnell is a wizard at using Senate procedure to protect his caucus from hard votes. But if the House impeaches the president, Mr McConnell can't simply refuse to hold a trial. Which means that if Mr Trump is impeached, each Republican senator would ultimately have to justify either voting to get rid of a president still popular with much of the Republican base, or endorsing whatever transgression had put him in the dock.

Some of these senators, such as Lindsey Graham, would be haunted by their comments advocating president Bill Clinton's impeachment two decades ago. Many others would be haunted by the nation's suburbs, where voters have been swinging more firmly toward Democrats with every obnoxious @realDonaldTrump tweet. They would probably react badly to any offence that plausibly spurred the president's impeachment. Few Republican senators would want to anger those voters by defending the president's behaviour. But they would be equally loath to infuriate Mr Trump's rural base by throwing the president to the wolves.

But the greatest danger may be the one facing Democrats: that the investigations end up with not quite enough evidence to justify impeachment - and the Democrats nonetheless go ahead and impeach Mr Trump anyway. If the Mueller investigation ends without a credible, direct link between the president and Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Democratic base would still clamour to impeach him over the campaign finance violations prosecutors have connected to the hush-money payments. If the activists clamour loudly enough, impeachment may well happen simply because no one in the Democratic caucus wants to be the one who breaks the bad news to them.

The result would be a replay of the Clinton impeachment, only with each team taking the other side of the field. Democrats would have their own Lindsey Graham problems, trying to explain why Mr Trump's behaviour is worse than a president having sex with a 22-year-old White House intern and then concealing the affair with a spot of perjury.

If the push for impeachment is about covering up sexual impropriety instead of Russia's election interference, it will probably backfire, just as the Clinton impeachment blew up for Republicans. And while #MeToo may have changed the calculus, there are still millions across the country who don't necessarily thrill to the call of identity politics or want a forensic investigation of the president's sexual history. If that's where all this ends up, Democrats are likely to regret it.

About the only thing certain right now is that the next year is going to be one of the uglier, angrier entries in the annals of American history.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss