If there is one thing Republicans have had to learn over the last eight years, it’s that there is no single magic bullet that can immediately end a presidency.
Oh sure, some have tried. The most notable effort was to question Barack Obama’s birthplace, which never made much sense given his mother was a United States citizen and presumably maintained some sort of residence.
Nonetheless, that effort predictably failed. There were others — the Fast and Furious scandal, Benghazi, the IRS slow-walking tax-exempt statuses for conservatives, wiretapping journalists, etc.
Nothing ever brought Obama down. And, although many hoped it would result in the then-president’s removal, most knew those “scandals” were at best longshots.
The same was true with President George W. Bush. Take the Iraq war. The American public was sold on that war through either bad intelligence or a lie, depending on your point of view. It resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 Americans long after Bush stood in front of a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” Add to that all the other efforts to undermine the Bush presidency — Halliburton, the so-called Valerie Plame scandal, Abu Ghraib and Hurricane Katrina.
Bush was still elected to two terms. Sure, the last two years were rough as Republicans lost control of Congress. But that did not end his presidency prematurely.
Bill Clinton — Whitewater, Travelgate, Vince Foster. Oh yeah, Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. Still a two-term president.
You have to go back to George H.W. Bush for the last one-term president, and arguably his biggest problem was going back on his “no new taxes” pledge — not exactly something rising to the level of scandal.
After Richard Nixon and Watergate, both the right and the left have been obsessed with finding that one thing to end a presidency, either by resigning in disgrace or by overcoming the insurmountable likelihood of impeachment by the U.S. Senate.
So, despite this widespread, ironically bipartisan preoccupation with using scandal as a weapon for ouster, it has been 43 years since Nixon’s resignation. And we are still looking for the next Watergate scandal to unseat a sitting president in the middle of his term.
With President Donald Trump, why should we expect it to be any different?
On schedule, the rumblings for impeachment grew louder last week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The claim is that Trump dismissed him because Comey would not end his investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russia.
Instead of the usual crackpot left-of-center Democrats like Rep. Maxine Waters of California, we started to hear the word “impeachment” in more mainstream settings. Specifically, academia and the pundit class have started to throw around the possibility of impeachment.
“[B]ecause impeachment is our system’s last resort for someone who treats himself or herself as above the law, [the] most relevant thing is whether this president, by his recent course of action — on top of his violations of the foreign corruption or Emoluments Clause — this president has shown that he cannot be trusted to remain within the law,” Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe said in a TV appearance on Sunday in regard to Trump’s dismissal of Comey. “And our Constitution’s last resort for situations of that kind is to get the person out of office.”
Absolutely, Trump is an unconventional president, and that could be his undoing. If the rulebook was tossed out for him to win the election, then the rulebook may as well be tossed out for how he leaves office.
But you have to admit, as unpopular as he is, to even get to Trump being removed from office before January 20, 2021, is a heavy lift.
For starters, the Democrats would have to make major gains in the House and Senate in 2018. Obviously, that part is a real possibility given the enthusiasm is on the Democrats’ side and traditionally the ruling party struggles in midterm elections after a new president is elected.
All it would take is a simple majority in the House to get the ball rolling on impeachment. Once it gets to that point, it would take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to remove the president. The Democrats may pick up some seats in the Senate, but the idea of getting to 67 is practically an impossibility.
There are 23 Democratic seats, eight Republican seats and two seats held by independents (Sens. Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, both of whom caucus with the Democrats) up for election in 2018.
If the Democrats hold the 23 seats and keep King and Sanders, then sweep the other eight GOP seats, which would mean winning in places like Texas, Utah, Mississippi and Nebraska, the Senate goes 54 Dems plus the two independents and 44 for the Republicans.
That still does not get you to two-thirds.
Otherwise, Democrats would have to bank on winning some Republican votes on an impeachment conviction.
If you are disgruntled and want Trump out of office, don’t get your hopes too high that this or any scandal will take him down outside of an election. Learn from the mistakes of 2016 and look to 2020.