This morning, Democrats in the House of Representatives announced they will move forward with two articles of impeachment charging President Donald J. Trump with the two most serious offenses they considered at hearings during the last two months: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. It is expected the House Judiciary Committee will formally make these charges on Thursday with the full House of Representatives to vote next week. If impeached as expected, President Trump would face a trial in the Senate in January 2020.
Do you really want to know? Trust me, you won’t like it. Ok, fine. But you were warned.
Today I bring you four predictions. Yes, I know, it seems every pundit has a prediction about Trump and impeachment. But hey, not everyone has four, right?
President Donald Trump will not resign the presidency. Not today. Not next month. Not next summer. Never.
How many of you know the name Michael London? No, not the late Little House on the Prairie actor. Michael London was the attorney who represented Vice President Spiro Agnew during the Watergate Scandal. Agnew resigned the vice presidency months before Nixon resigned the presidency. Apparently, London is quite adamant that Donald Trump should resign. He wrote just that in Time magazine in August of 2018. And he wrote just that in January 2019 in another Time article. And he wrote it again yesterday, again in Time. Either Time magazine is desperate for content (I will gladly help them out with that) or London thinks Trump is Beetlejuice and that invoking his resignation three times will make it happen?
Donald Trump is many things, but a quitter has never been one of them, except maybe at marriage. And he has plenty of rea$ons to stay in the White Hou$e, if you know what I mean. It is unclear if the House of Representatives could have made a violation of the Emoluments Clause stick as an impeachment count, but they have opted not to try. By doing so, they have waived that opportunity. The violations are not crimes, so long as Trump and his businesses pay the requisite taxes on the nefarious gains. They are Constitutional violations. There will not be another impeachment (even if Trump is re-elected and goes on a crime spree that would make Al Capone’s jaw drop). Whether for the next 13 months, or the next 5+ years if re-elected, the goal of Trump (and his family and businesses) will be to plunder, grift, and extort every cent they can get their hands on.
Another reason for Trump to stay in office is that the statute of limitations on many of the crimes he could potentially be charged with (whether at the federal level of in the Southern District of New York) is five years. The Washington Post covered this in detail last year, but here are some Cliff’s Notes if that link is behind a paywall for you.
There is a longstanding Department of Justice position that a sitting president cannot be indicted. One would assume an Attorney General loyal to the president, like William Barr, would defend that position if challenged. Thus, if Trump does not resign and wins re-election, any crimes from before he assumed the office (and any he committed through right now, as he would not leave office for 5 years and 6 weeks from today) would fall away as outside the statute of limitations and would not be prosecutable.
But there are other factors that might not work in his favor. For example, if Trump can be proved to have committed an ongoing crime that began in 2015 or 2016, like obstruction, the statute of limitations would not expire if he continued that obstruction right through his departure from office in 2024.
There is also the question of tolling. If someone committed a crime and fled the country to a foreign land with which the United States has no extradition treaty, the statute of limitations pauses, or tolls, until the accused returns to the jurisdiction. One does not avoid prosecution for a crime simply by hiding and running out the clock. There would be a legal question to be answered as to whether the statute of limitations tolls when the suspect is temporarily immune from prosecution based on their election to office?
Contrary to the buzz at the time he made his unscheduled trip to Walter Reed hospital last month, Trump will also never resign for health reasons. Think about it, if he simply stayed holed-up in the residence at the White House 24 hours a day, so long as he were conscious and alert, there is no requirement (or very little) that a president must do anything. Trump could watch TV and tweet all day (instead the 12 hours per day he averages now) and who could force him to do otherwise? Yes, there could come a time where invoking the 25th Amendment would be a consideration, but as I wrote in an earlier article, the effort would be temporary at best and a catastrophic failure at worse.
OK, so Trump will not resign from office. Next prediction then?
Saying Donald Trump will survive impeachment and remain in office would be too safe of a prediction. But these two predictions might surprise you?
In the House of Representatives, more Democrats will vote NOT to impeach Trump than Republicans will vote to impeach him.
In the Senate trial, more Democrats will vote to acquit Trump than Republicans will vote to convict him.
Right now, Congressman Jeff van Drew (D-NJ) is on the record that he will vote against the Articles of Impeachment. Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN), who like Drew opposed opening the impeachment inquiry in the first place, has not publicly stated how he will vote. However, he commented of the process, “I don’t have an idea what they’re doing,” so that should provide some insight as to how he will vote.
Every Republican in the House voted against opening the inquiry. Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who is not seeking re-election, was widely believed to be a Republican who would vote to impeach so long as the evidence supported it. It does not appear he will vote that way, however. As he was one of the more moderate House Republicans and needed not to worry about his re-election chances, it seems unlikely that other Republicans will break with the party line, even from among the 20 others not seeking re-election. Justin Amash (I-MI) was a Republican, and has publicly stated he will vote to impeach Trump, but his abandonment of the party means he no longer counts as Republican.
There are also a dozen Democrats (in districts Trump carried in 2016) who have proposed censure for Trump instead of impeachment. It seems unlikely they will convince enough Democrats to go that way, and they could abstain from the vote as Democrats would have the votes to pass it without them, but might a few vote against instead?
In the Senate, there are only three Republicans at this point considering (and that word is used very loosely) voting to convict Donald Trump and remove him from office: Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Mitt Romney (UT).
Collins already is facing a 2020 general election challenge (maybe her toughest ever) from likely Democratic nominee Sara Gideon (Maine’s Speaker of the House) as well as Independent Tiffany Bond (who sought Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018). A vote to convict Trump would also likely induce a primary challenge from vocal Trump supporter and former Maine governor Paul LePage. The bottom line is, Democrats stung by Collins vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will never again trust Collins as a moderate who may lean Republican but will represent the best interests of Mainers and Americans. She is now a rubber stamp for Trump, as unfair as that label might be given Collins’ past votes on issues like Obamacare repeal. Showing independence (or a backbone) in the impeachment case will not win back the Democrats and Independents she lost, so the only hope is to stand by Trump and hope his coattails are long enough come November.
Murkowski has publicly clashed with Trump on the Obamacare repeal and on Ukraine, However, she noted in an interview last month that, “Alaskans are not paying much attention to the House impeachment drama.” So if her constituents are not concerned about Trump’s behavior and she is still basking in the victory of opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling (something she pushed for 30 years that would not have happened without Trump’s vocal support), and she does not stand for re-election until 2022 (by then, Trump will either be re-elected or out of office), WHY would she vote to convict Trump and paint a target on her own back?
Romney and Trump seem to have reached a detente. Romney is one of the few Republicans in Washington who openly (and often, resoundingly) criticizes Trump’s actions when the actions (or inactions) warrant it. Romney always capitulates to Trump in the end, and it seems Trump is willing to take a few barbs from Romney so long as the end result is Romney falling on his knees and pledging allegiance when the president demands it. Romney called the Ukraine actions that led to Trump’s pending impeachment, “troubling in the extreme” and called Trump’s pleas for China to investigate Biden as well, “wrong and appalling.” Vin Weber, an adviser on Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said this of Romney’s likely vote, “My guess is that Sen. Romney, although he’s going to be really troubled by this, is going to come to the conclusion the country’s interests are not served by removing Donald Trump from office.”
I had to double-check to make sure I did not mix in a Susan Collins quote by mistake.
On the other side of the aisle are Democrats Joe Manchin (WV), Doug Jones (AL) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ). While none have expressed a clear answer on how they might vote in a Senate trial, Sinema has been making news for breaking with Democrats on a host of issues and has been staking out a lot of the same positions as Manchin, positions which often lead to questions of party loyalty or even party affiliation. Jones, representing bright red Alabama is in a tough spot. Trump is wildly popular in Alabama; Democrats, not so much. And Jones faces re-election in November with Trump heading the Republican ticket and Roy Moore and Jeff Sessions (among others) vying next spring for the Republican nomination to oppose Jones. Voting to convict Trump will motivate Republican support against him and make him a target every time Trump or a surrogate visits Alabama. But as that is likely to be the case anyway, can he risk deflating his constituents by voting to acquit Trump?
Those three predictions should be validated (or disproved) in the next month or two. The final prediction will make you wait a little longer.
After Donald Trump is impeached and acquitted, he wins re-election next November.
Part of that prediction comes from focusing on the current Democratic field. No one seems to be catching fire, at least not yet. Two obstacles that hampered Hillary Clinton in 2016 were lower Democratic turnout in big cities and suburbs and defections of rural, blue-collar, blue-state Democrats to Trump, particularly in the blue wall states (PA, MI, WI) Trump eventually carried. To put those states back in the win column (and put a Democrat back in the White House) requires either pulling those Trump converts back to party or generating the level of enthusiasm seen in 2008 with Obama or in some of the recent (albeit, losing) races like Beto O’Rourke’s Senate run in Texas or Stacey Abram’s Governor run in Georgia to boost turnout.
The incumbency is a powerful weapon in presidential politics. How many incumbent presidents lose, regardless of polls numbers or job performance? In the last 100 years, four.
Herbert Hoover had the Great Depression.
Gerald Ford was not even elected, and voters punished him for Richard Nixon’s sins as Nixon was not on the ballot and Ford had issued him a pardon.
Jimmy Carter had runaway inflation, the oil crisis, and the Iran hostage mess, a brutal primary challenge in which Ted Kennedy won 37% of the votes, a 3rd party candidate (John Anderson) in the general election, and the rise of the religious right as a Republican constituency.
George H.W. Bush had a recession, a pretty huge tax increase (which he had promised those reading his lips during his campaign he would not allow), and a stunningly effective 3rd-party run by Ross Perot.
It is damn hard to take down an incumbent president if the economy is good. And it is good. Not great. Far from it. Trump promised during the campaign (and when pushing for tax cuts) that he could get GDP growth to 5%, maybe 6%. It has been rolling along between 2-3% under Trump just as it did most of the time under Obama. Slow and steady growth.
There are significant structural problems with the economy, but two ways Trump escapes blame if Democrats are not careful.
First, like he does with seemingly everything, Trump loves blaming others and projecting his failures and weaknesses onto others. He has been pushing for years (even when Republicans controlled the House) the notion that Democratic policies (and the obstruction of Trump’s own policy wishes) would cause a recession. That is a lie, but Trump and his team will do everything they can to pin any economic downturn on Democrats if one occurs, so Democrats need to get in front of it.
Democrats need to avoid a government shutdown at some point in the new budget process.
They need to pass NAFTA 2.0 which Trump “negotiated”. While the public is still waiting on the revisions to the agreement Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats made, the original NAFTA and Trump’s renegotiated one were so similar it would fail if exposed to one of those plagiarism scans used in colleges. It will not likely create/save a single job, sets future “goals” which have primarily been met, and will likely result in the government paying more for prescription drugs. But Trump, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross keep hammering at Democrats to pass the new deal like the entire economy will soar or sink based on the outcome. Democrats hate giving Trump any victories, and especially hate letting him do a victory dance when he accomplished nothing of substance, but Democrats cannot afford to have this deal hanging in limbo if the economy stumbles as all the blame will come their way.
I covered the new NAFTA in an article last year.
The second is that the definition of a recession works in Trump’s favor, as does the timing, as he likely can claim the economy is still expanding even if it likely not.
A recession requires two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction. The economy grew at 2% in Q2 of 2019 and 1.9% in Q3. Q4 always seems to be a wild card. In 2018, it was the worst quarter of the year. In 2017, it was the best. Either way, it is doubtful growth falls below 0% this quarter. Basically, the economy has not had a single quarter of shrinkage since the first quarter of 2014. To have an official recession before the election, two of the remaining three quarters that occur before the election must show contraction. And really, it must be Q1 and Q2 of 2020 as there would likely not be a definitive figure for Q3 (which ends September 30) before the November election.
To be clear, the monthly stuff matters, especially in public opinion. How the wallet and bank account are doing matters. Employment numbers are released monthly. As are reports on things like trade and orders of durable goods. Those could hurt Trump even if the first bad ones are released in October and only show the first hints of decline.
Also, Trump holds the wild card of tariffs on China. These tariffs are likely costing the economy 1% GDP growth. If the economy starts to slow in 2020, Trump can claim an agreement in principle with China on trade and an agreement for both sides to cease all tariffs. The stock market would leap. GDP would see a boost as soon as the following quarter as manufacturers started building inventory to meet expected demand. Trump could claim that any official signing would not happen until 2021 once all the details were formalized in a new trade treaty.
If he wins re-election, Trump could claim China never intended to go through with the deal and only agreed to it in 2020 hoping the incoming Democrat would be weak and let them win, but then Trump got re-elected and China backed out of the deal. Boom, sanctions go back in place AND Trump claims the position of the hardliner who is feared while Democrats capitulate.
America is, you remember, dealing with a president and an administration that has no honor, no value for truth, and no shame. So that he would lie about a deal and then craft another lie to make himself look like a hero (instead of a fool) when that deal never materialized is Trump 101.
Maybe he should start a university?
Lastly, the electoral map is a difficult road for either side.
The absolute best case for Trump is holding what he had in 2016. There are not any obvious states he might pick up, Minnesota, maybe, if one had to be picked, but that would be impossible if Amy Klobuchar is on the ticket. In 2016, 304 electoral votes are what he won, and that (or a few above that, as there were a few faithless electors) is likely his ceiling. Trump took six states Barack Obama had won in 2012 (PA, MI, OH, WI, IA, FL). Mitt Romney had previously taken NC, which Obama won in 2008, and Trump held that for Republicans in 2016.
Democrats will again go hard after Florida. Florida is becoming like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. Republicans have won the last three governor’s races, the last three Senate races, and the most recent POTUS race. It is tantalizing as Florida is the 3rd-biggest electoral vote pot behind CA and TX (tied with NY at 29). Had Clinton won it, she would have needed only ONE of the other 5 states Trump took away from Obama’s haul in 2012 to deny him 270 electoral votes. It will always be too enticing to ignore as most statewide races come down to 1% or 2% margins and it costs way less to advertise there than in major media markets elsewhere. The Democratic nominee in 2020 will face the same pressure to win Florida. Win it, and Trump must sweep the rest of the in-play states. Not impossible, as he did it last time, but would leave no margin for error.
Most likely, the Democratic nominee will contest Florida and Ohio but not win them. The Democratic nominee can’t just concede those states though as they need to keep Trump and Vice President Pence (and their surrogates) visiting there frequently and investing resources so they are not free to campaign elsewhere.
The Democratic nominee will focus on winning back the blue wall (PA, MI, WI) and will invest in places like Arizona and North Carolina that were within 3-4% in 2016 and which also have Senatorial races this time around.
Also, worth watching is Georgia.
Trump won by 5% in 2016. In the 2018 Governor’s race, Republican Brian Kemp won by 1.5%. The issue is that turnout was 75% in 2016 (with the presidential race atop the ticket) and 70% in 2018 without that. Basically, Abrams got 50,000 more Democratic votes than Clinton and Kemp got roughly 100,000 fewer votes than Trump. And the Democrat still lost. It just does not seem the state has shifted enough to allow a Democrat to win yet. But what makes it interesting is that due to Johnny Isakson’s resignation, BOTH Senate seats in Georgia are up for grabs in 2020. Jason Carter (Jimmy’s grandson) is expected to run as are other big names in Georgia and national politics, like the son of former Connecticut Senator and Vice-Presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman. If the top of the ticket includes an African American for VP (say, Kamala Harris), things could be competitive, or at minimum, force Trump to spend time and resources defending a state which should have been in his win column.
One huge issue the Democrats face in places like Georgia (and really, throughout the south) is that almost all the candidates for president are northern liberals. Clearly this is due to the Democrats being wiped off the map in the south, holding one governorship in Louisiana and one Senate seat in Alabama. It is difficult to build a bench of potential candidates for 2020 and 2024 when your party does not hold any statewide offices in half the country.
One polling site does have the Democratic nominee picking up four states (PA, MI, WI, FL) and winning the 2020 presidential election. Most of the others (and there are at least 7 other fairly reputable ones) have FL, PA, and WI as toss-ups, with MI leaning Democratic although there is one that calls FL as leaning Republican, and two that call PA and WI leaning Democratic. It is really too early to tell as the voters are 3-4 months from likely knowing the Democratic nominee and 7 months from the convention where the ticket will be finalized.
But given that the economy remains steady and slowly expanding, that Trump will absolutely survive impeachment unscathed, that Trump has the advantages of incumbency, and that Democrats need to take more states away (relative to 2016) than Trump needs to hold, yes, most pundits would agree that points to a 60% chance (at least as of today) that Trump will win re-election.
Also, the majority of gambling sites in the UK (yes, they take bets on seemingly everything, even other country’s elections) give Trump the best odds to win in November. He is around even money at most sportsbooks while former Vice President Joe Biden has the best odds among the Democrats at 5 to 1.
There are a lot of things that could influence the race before we get to vote.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky are meeting this week to try to take the first steps to resolving the conflict in/annexation of Crimea, with Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron serving as peacemakers. As both Russia and Ukraine are closely involved (implicated?) in Trump’s troubles, and as Trump could play some role in mediating the Russia/Ukraine dispute down the road, and as NONE of the leaders can be trusted to act in America’s best interest, who knows what might happen there or how it might impact 2020?
Israel is headed for another election and maybe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is headed to jail? Lots of older, Jewish voters (and some younger ones) in key states like Florida have supported Republican candidates for their perceived (or real) actions on behalf of Israel. To be clear, Jewish voters overwhelmingly support Democrats, but in a state like Florida where every vote counts (or some would say, doesn’t count) even slight changes have a big impact on the outcome. Who emerges as Israeli leader (if anyone, this will be the 4th try), and whether it is Netanyahu, could have some influence on Trump’s success with Jewish voters?
The UK is having another election next weekend (3rd this year) as they try to break a logjam in Parliament to get a majority to sign-off on Brexit. Polls are showing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s conservatives could add to their slim majority and might have enough votes by 2020 to force the UK out of the EU. While this would be a big victory for a Trump ally, Brexit could very well push the UK (and in turn, the world) into a recession. Could perhaps Johnson win and formalize a Brexit but set a date of maybe January 2021, so it would not harm Trump’s 2020 fortunes?
Finally, the Supreme Court will again be an issue. If Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies or resigns, President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell will fill the seat without question, even if she dies close to the election and Trump loses. They would push the new Justice through in December if they had to, before the new POTUS took office. But even if Ginsburg remains on the Court through the election, it seems unlikely she will serve another four years. Republicans can (and will) go back to the well with making the 2020 election about a SCOTUS seat to get their religious fanatic base fired up. Also, Justice Stephen Breyer is 81. In a second term, Trump could replace the two old liberals on the Supreme Court and leave only Obama’s appointments (Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor) in a 7-2 shortfall with Trump having appointed 4 of the 9 Justices.
Republicans are going to use this to get people out to vote. Democrats and liberals (especially, WOMEN and MINORITIES) have got to be terrified about what would happen to them in America with Trump and his team of misogynists and racists having four more years with the Trump-packed SCOTUS acting as a rubber-stamp for the administration’s policies? That means they should come out to vote in record numbers for their own protection, right? Especially, if a Democratic POTUS (with a Democratic Senate) can replace Ginsburg and Breyer, the Court will be back to where it was before Justice Scalia died, with a 5-4 conservative tilt and the oldest Justice (in this case, Clarence Thomas) a super-conservative and the future of the Court in the balance should he need to be replaced.
There are 13 months (hopefully) of Trump remaining. On one hand, if it all breaks just right, America could get out of this nightmare relatively intact and work on rebuilding all Trump tried to destroy. On the other, with just a few minor breaks going his way, Trump could permanently cripple America (at least, liberal America) and put protections in place that would ensure there would be no way his changes could be undone, at least not in our lifetime.
That should keep most people up at night.