The Question of Impeachment

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Just like you, I have heard what seems like an endless number of opinions about impeaching President Trump.

I have not read anything that explains the process better than an article now appearing in The Atlantic by Yoni Appelbaum entitled, “The Case for Impeachment.”

The longer the Trump Administration lasts, the more obvious it becomes that just a handful of people control Trump’s destiny and I don’t mean Robert Mueller and Nancy Pelosi.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chief Justice John Roberts and Fox News are the keys.

I’m not sure that Trump and McConnell have decided who has the upper hand, but Trump can’t stand without McConnell’s protection in the Senate. If McConnell loses his ability to control the Senate or abandons him, Trump will fall. McConnell is probably praying that the coming Mueller report either gives Trump a clean bill of health or deals a fatal blow. If, on the other hand, the report just paints a very bad picture of Trump, then McConnell will be in a bind.

Some Senators facing re-election will find it harder to stand behind Trump. Some Senators may sense that a Trump downfall is an opening for them. Cracks in Republican solidarity will appear. McConnell will find it much harder to control his forces. As is true of most politicians, I suspect he will decide what to do based primarily upon what is least harmful to himself and, secondarily, least harmful to his party. For an interesting analysis of the subtly changing dynamics in the Senate, see The New York Times story of 3/5/19, “Trump’s Grip Seen Waning In The Senate.”

Chief Justice John Roberts is of vital importance because he would preside over an impeachment trial in the Senate and because he is the only potential swing vote in important cases involving Trump that are likely to come before the Supreme Court. Since Chief Justice Roberts has voted with the conservative majority in 87.5% of 5-4 decisions, it is hard to characterize him as a swing vote, but he is the only conservative on the Court that might be persuaded that constitutional principles, government institutions and traditional, expected norms of behavior are more important than temporal politics.

No one should doubt the importance of Fox News, which is owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch. Trump and Fox are beholden to the loyalty of the same group of viewers/ voters.  The key role Fox celebrities played in goading Trump into declaring a national emergency to build a wall should be all the evidence one needs to understand their power. Some commentators have suggested that Fox is actually more needy of Trump than he is of them, but I’m not sure that he sees it that way because it is clear he runs away from their criticism. In the end, Fox is a business that must survive long after Trump. Fox’s survival strategy could be a key factor in what happens over the next 2 years. If Trump becomes a strategic business liability, what will Fox do?

It may sound strange to say this, but I believe those who ultimately control Trump’s fate could easily fit in a compact car. Mitch McConnell, John Roberts, Rupert Murdoch. Who’s driving? Time will tell.