As matters currently stand, the odds of Donald Trump being impeached by this Congress are so profoundly minute, they defy even the existence of mathematics. There are no numbers — here, there or anywhere — that say such a thing is remotely possible. The federal government is rendered powerless by its own inadequacies; after giving a trillion dollars to rich people, there isn’t much else the Republicans in the majority can do, so they are content to hunker in the bunker and see what November brings. Open support for impeachment, even among Democrats, is so gossamer right now that it doesn’t cast a shadow in the high noon sun.
Rather than wallow in the riptides of the stormy present, cast your mind forward to the possibilities of the New Year. Imagine Trump — mired in scandal and in a permanent state of full-throttle temper tantrum — spending the summer and fall taking a lead pipe to any hopes the GOP had of retaining a majority in either chamber. The House and Senate are lost in a November bloodbath, the House by historic margins and the Senate by a nose. Finally, like the tolling of a funeral bell, the Mueller Report is made public after the special counsel finishes his investigation.
Maybe it’s obstruction of justice. Maybe it’s collusion with a foreign power to interfere with an election. Maybe it’s money laundering. Maybe it’s all of these and worse. Come January, a new Democratic Congress with the Mueller Report in hand will almost certainly have the necessary voltage to zap Donald Trump out of his current government sinecure and send him home to Trump Tower to watch his empire fall. As Paul Waldman recently explained in The Washington Post, “He may well be the single most corrupt major business figure in the United States of America.” That corruption did not evaporate once he took the oath of office, but stuck fast to him like a kale fart in a hot car.
They will have the goods on Trump, I am mortally sure. Will they act?
For good reason, the very existence of Vice President Mike Pence is enough to derail any serious discussion of the impeachment of Donald Trump. As it stands, the man certainly serves as a potent insurance policy against Article II, Section 4.
When conversations turn to Trump’s impeachment, LGBTQ activists and others have rightly raised an alarm about the acute dangers they would face from a President Pence. He could, with the right allies in Congress, push for a “religious objections” bill that legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ citizens, as he did while governor of Indiana. He might push for a bill requiring people who have abortions to hold funerals for the fetus, as he did in 2016. He might sign a bill requiring people seeking abortions to undergo two invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound procedures, as he did in 2013.
Hell yes, there is good reason for concern, and even fear. Pence is the kind of Christian evangelical zealot who would have been right at home putting “pagan” villages to the sword and torch a thousand years ago. His misogyny and homophobia are the stuff of nightmares. He is, very quietly, a darling of the right-wing moneyed elite and speaks their language fluently. Worse, as a former governor and member of the House, Pence actually knows how government works. He does not regularly dismember fellow Republicans in public, and he could easily build coalitions with the worst elements in Congress. With his knowledge and their help, they could pass legislation hateful enough to frighten the Freedom statue off the Capitol Dome.
That is now, today, tomorrow, next week and every week until November. My kid will still be eating her Halloween candy when the midterm deal goes down, and if the numbers hold or get worse for Republicans, it’s going to be a whole different conversation at this year’s Thanksgiving table. Sure, Pence is terrifying on a number of levels, but if the cookie crumbles just so in November, the beast will be without teeth.
There is ample precedent to support this presumption, in the guise of former President Gerald R. Ford. No historical comparison is seamless, of course, but the example of Ford is highly instructive.
After Richard Nixon resigned the presidency and fled back to California, Ford pardoned him. A few days later, he unveiled a program of conditional amnesty for Vietnam draft evaders. A year later, he presided over the US military’s final, staggering exit from that war; Operation Frequent Wind was a frantic evacuation that saw helicopter gunships shoved over the sides of aircraft carriers and into the sea to make room for more refugees. Amazingly enough, Ford got Justice John Paul Stevens onto the Supreme Court. He was shot at more often than any president since George Washington.
That’s pretty much it. Gerald Ford’s presidential library is one room with a magazine rack and some mints in a dish. Ford didn’t do nothing, but he didn’t do much. Why?
There are several reasons. The long agony of Watergate, culminating in the concussion of Nixon’s resignation, left the nation and the government so exhausted as to be effectively rendered powerless. With only a few scant accomplishments and no signature legislation to his name, Ford spent much of his time in office as an animated placeholder while the country tried to come to grips with what had just happened to it. Moreover, the Democrats in Congress — cat-wary after Watergate — watched him like a hawk. Everyone just waited for 1976, when a peanut farmer came along and sent this accidental president back home to Michigan.
As stated, no historical analogy is seamless. Ford was appointed, not elected, and the Congress of that day had yet to be infected by the rancid teachings of Supply Side Jesus. That being said, the similarities and probabilities are too obvious to ignore. If the impeachment of Donald Trump were successfully undertaken in 2019 or even 2020, the aftermath would find Mike Pence frozen like an ant in amber.
The ultimate removal of Trump would be preceded by a massive political upheaval that would leave the Republican Party on fire from stem to stern. The executive branch would be shattered and splattered, cornered into virtual immobility under the Say-No-to-Everything sway of a Democratic majority … if that Democratic majority decides to show up. Everything on the table this time, Nancy. Keep your powder dry long enough and it turns to dust.
If the proper circumstances combine to allow the removal of Donald Trump from office, President Pence will become a cipher until an election comes along to remove him. He is neither smart enough nor strong enough to overcome the forces of history that will be sluicing through the cracks in his walls. He will be a man-suit stuffed with straw. He will be nothing, and then he, too, will be gone.
So let’s do this. Climb on the ‘Peach Train. If you happen to believe there will soon be sufficient evidence to justify the removal of this catastrophe president, don’t let Pence chase you off. He might be scary today, but if voters pull his fangs come November, it will get really interesting around here.