If the president in question was anyone else, the suggestion from a prominent supporter, Jerry Falwell Jr., that he was owed an extension of his term as “reparations” for the Mueller investigation could be dismissed as mere rhetorical excess combined with an effort to taunt liberals for their interest in reparations for the descendants of slaves. But because Donald Trump has repeatedly fanned claims that he regards anything that gets in his way — say, an adverse 2020 election — as an extra-constitutional “coup,” it’s not so easy to laugh this off:
The president retweeted this little stink bomb and added his own pithy characterization of the investigation his own administration began:
Mueller aside, Trump has often defended his own chronic assaults on the rule of law by accusing those seeking to restrain him, via lawsuits, congressional investigations, or the constitutionally sanctioned method of impeachment, of defying democratic norms by trying to reverse the results of the 2016 election. And having set a precedent for his own defiance of election results by claiming with zero evidence that “millions of illegal votes” were cast for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Trump echoed Republican allegations (made, again, without evidence) that the GOP’s midterm losses, especially in California, were the result of election fraud:
All in all, it’s not surprising that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fears anything other that a decisive defeat of Trump in 2020 could lead to a contested election that the incumbent won’t accept unless it keeps him in office, as the New York Times reports:
In recent weeks Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat. That view, fed by Mr. Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims of Democratic voter fraud, is one of the reasons she says it is imperative not to play into the president’s hands, especially on impeachment.
Pelosi, like Bernie Sanders, is said to consider impeachment as a distraction from the focused, issue-oriented efforts Democrats need to undertake to beat Trump in 2020. But there may be another factor in the back of her mind discouraging the path of impeachment: It would surely be described as a slow-motion coup by Trump and his allies, justifying any counter-measures he chooses. The president is already setting the table for his line of attack:
It’s a wonderfully circular argument: In accusing him of high crimes and misdemeanors, Democrats are violating democratic norms so egregiously that the only way to restore them might be a countercoup of his own. It’s a time-worn rationale for authoritarian measures aimed at “saving” constitutional regimes they overthrow. And even if Trump keeps hinting at it just to mess with the minds of his critics, the effect it has on sycophants like Jerry Falwell Jr. could be unfortunate. The 2020 election could be delegitimized on the right before it even happens.