A cornered Donald Trump after a midterm defeat could do some very dangerous things, fast.
Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images
For months we have been hearing about a lot of controversial things Donald Trump might like to do right now, but is probably postponing until after the midterm elections so as to avoid discomfiting his party’s candidates or interfering with GOP messaging. These include shutting down the federal government over his demands for a border wall; moving controversial legislation that divides Republicans; and firing the attorney general or the deputy attorney general. Beyond that, Trump will probably be reasonably careful not to create a hot national-security crisis before November 6, or take actions in his trade war that tank markets, or make any truly overt threats against civil liberties.
If Republicans do well in the midterms and retain control of Congress, Trump will return to business as usual and we’ll find out whether he’s going to do crazy things even if they undermine his chances of a second term. But if Democrats win control of one or both houses of Congress, then what? It’s theoretically possible that Trump will decide he has to change his ways and work with Democrats, and maybe move infrastructure investments from the bottom to the top of his priority list. But more likely, he’ll behave like a cornered, er, president and do as much as quickly as possible to achieve his ends or enhance his power. As Brian Beutler compellingly argues, that probably means a “lame-duck session” of Congress — held by the existing, GOP-controlled bodies — between November and January that could be frightening in the speed with which Trump takes steps to protect himself:
[T]hose steps will include, at a minimum, pardoning Manafort and firing Sessions. We can see his intentions both in overt and behind-the-scenes steps he’s taken against McGahn and Sessions in recent days, and in reports that he has consulted with his personal, criminal lawyers about both pardoning Manafort, firing Sessions, and impeachment.
Depending upon how willingly Republicans in the Senate will go along with Trump’s designs, Trump may also seek to rush a new, unrecused attorney general through the confirmation process, or abuse the vacancies act to install an acting attorney general who might corruptly interfere with the Mueller investigation.
Beutler believes the haste with which Republicans are lashing the Kavanaugh nomination through the Senate has less to do with fears of midterm losses than with the need to clear the decks for more controversial measures. Consummating what would in effect be Trump’s version of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre would take some time and attention.
And that’s just on the Mueller front. Trump might lose all sorts of inhibitions over executive actions or nominations if he knew he had just weeks to get things done before facing two years of Democratic investigations, legislative maneuvers, and general “resistance.”
It’s still possible, of course, that Trump is planning some sort of October Surprise to increase his party’s chances in the midterms. It’s even more likely, however, that he has in mind a November Surprise if things go wrong.