Ben: Lee Drutman wrote at FiveThirtyEight yesterday that Republicans turning against Trump en masse over the Ukraine affair is unlikely, since their electoral fortunes are so closely tied to his. But he notes that “if it does happen, it will likely take us by surprise. After all, political science has shown us that big political changes often come suddenly, after long periods of stasis. Looking back, it seems like of course the Soviet Union was bound to collapse. But up until the moment it did — and remember, it fell all at once — almost nobody predicted it.” Can you imagine this scenario unfolding under any circumstances in the next couple months?
Ed: I think it would take longer than that, unless the impeachment probe turns up some private chamber where Trump worships at an altar of the Infernal Lord Satan.
Margaret: Yeah, I can’t see that happening unless Trump is found holding a literal smoking gun.
Ed: On Fifth Avenue. Near a corpse. The point Lee is making is that if Republican solidarity with Trump breaks, it will happen overwhelmingly. The party isn’t going to let itself be split down the middle on this. It’ll either stick with POTUS to the bitter end or throw him over the side en masse. The former is far more likely.
Margaret: Right, and I think in order for that to happen there would have to be some massive, sudden shift in Trump’s polling among GOP voters.
Ed: Yep, no matter what senators privately think, the MAGA base is going to be very hard to shake. And the atmosphere of extreme polarization that Trump has cultivated makes that even harder.
Margaret: The looming election is another complicating matter. It isn’t 2017.
Ed: Right, and that’s a big difference from the Nixon precedent.
Margaret: Senate Republicans would have to be convinced that they’re going to lose in 2020 if they stick with Trump.
Ed: And like everyone else, they will be wary of underestimating the dude after what happened in 2016.
Ben: Many of them already made this calculation once — and it didn’t go quite the way they expected.
Margaret: As much as Trump is unpredictable, at this point, we’re kind of used to it. He’s going to use appalling tactics to smear his Democratic opponent, but hey, it might work! They’d have to feel it’s safer to see what happens to the party after GOP senators vote to remove a president Republican voters chose in 2016.
Ed: Ben, you mean after Access Hollywood?
Ben: Yep. Though some broke with him well before that.
Ed: That’s a good point, Ben. Go back and read what people like Paul Ryan were saying publicly in October of 2016 — and what Pence was apparently saying privately. Everyone thought he was toast, and everyone was wrong. That’s probably his ultimate life insurance policy now. Because fixing the GOP in time for an election right after impeachment and removal won’t be easy. And nobody wants MAGA folks besieging their homes and offices.
Ben: Today, Mitt Romney tweeted out some direct criticism of Trump: “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.” So far, he is the only GOP senator to air anything close to this level of disapproval on the matter. Romney is obviously not representative of his party on this, but do you see anyone following his lead anytime soon? Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado, two of the more so-called “moderate” GOP members, are both facing very tough reelection challenges next year, so you’d think it might behoove them to at least feign concern over the president’s actions.
Ed: Sure, but it takes 20 senators to remove him from office.
Ben: Look, I’m not asking for much here. If four GOP senators voted to convict him, that would be kind of shocking.
Margaret: I guess I could see a few more moderate Senate Republicans going the Romney route.
Ed: Outside Utah and LDS circles, Mitt is not what you’d call a beloved figure in the GOP these days. And everyone knows an endangered senator or two might take a dive (as might Doug Jones in the other direction).
Margaret: And Romney isn’t taking action of any kind. Maybe they’ll say they’re “troubled,” but when it comes down to it they’ll find some reason not to vote to impeach.
Ed: “Let the people decide,” and suchlike.
Ed: And besides: (insert your favorite whataboutism involving Democratic sins).
Margaret: New rule: can’t remove president within a year of election.
Ben: What about Uranium One? Pallets of cash? The phony dossier? Sometimes I enjoy reciting GOP talking points just to anger myself.
Ed: Yeah, and then there’s the babies Dems are murdering, and there’s the awful specter of socialism. The gun confiscations, the outlawing of cheeseburgers …
Ben: In the unlikely event that a lonely GOP rank-and-file holdout wanted to pacify their conscience and really go after Trump, do you think they would be actually punished by party leadership?
Margaret: Yes, but probably depends how far they go. Romney isn’t all that vulnerable. But like, Justin Amash is now a former Republican.
Ed: Depends. If they need it for reelection in tough territory, they’ll be forgiven. I mean, you need Collins around for the next SCOTUS confirmation, right?
Margaret: It’s not just party leadership, it’s Fox News turning these people into villains
or just refusing to put them on air, cutting off on-air access to their voters.
Ed: Yeah, good point. And that’s something else that didn’t exist when the GOP turned on Nixon. Fox News. Much less something like Breitbart or the right-wing social-media hordes. I’m having trouble imagining what it would take to produce a successful GOP-led coup. There’s also the little problem that a big chunk of Trump’s base loves him precisely for his evil ways. Catch him in a crime? They cheer! He’s owning the libs!
Still, Trump makes it harder every day to defend him — not just because of his misconduct, but because he’s so friggin’ erratic about it. McKay Coppins wrote today about the sheer fatigue GOP members of Congress are feeling every day.
Ben: They have my deepest sympathies.
Let’s say the usual not-crazy suspects — Romney, Collins, Lisa Murkowski, maybe Cory Gardner, do end up voting to convict (though this seems unlikely). Do you think even a limited GOP insurrection could or would have real negative political consequences for Trump?
Margaret: No, I don’t think so. Trump is just going to paint his opponents as deep state elites. Could be Dems, could be career intel officers, could be Republicans who don’t submit to him. If every Republican votes to remove him, he’ll keep complaining that he was unfairly betrayed by the GOP “swamp.” For more on this, tune into his new TV network.
Ben: Then he’ll retreat to a forest redoubt with his core supporters and declare a state in exile.
Ed: If Trump was not the 2020 nominee, I could see some defections on impeachment causing confusion, much as Gore couldn’t make up his mind whether to run with or against Clinton in 2000. But the party will pull together with so much at stake in 2020, and he’s the leader, like it or not.
Ben: Even if his numbers somehow dipped into the 20s and an electoral rout looked all but assured? Would Pence not look attractive in that scenario?
Margaret: I just don’t see it. After 2016, people are convinced Trump has some magical powers. You can go with the devil you know, or roll the dice on GOP voters forgiving you for removing Trump AND embracing his VP.
Ed: That gets back to the earlier scenario where rank-and-file Republicans are abandoning Trump (that’s the only way you get down into the 20s). And it would just take a lot of things that don’t seem feasible now. And Margaret’s right: Trump has all of us spooked.
Margaret: Pence is not exactly a populist hero, though Evangelicals like him.
Ed: Pence needs to work on his hatefulness if he’s going to carry the future banner of Trumpism.
Margaret: Yeah, he needs to broadcast his hatefulness way more loudly — make up catchy hashtags.
Ben: So, in conclusion, Trump is finished.
Margaret: Haha, yeah, pretty much. This will definitely end with Trump and Pence getting impeached, and President Pelosi appointing HRC to the Supreme Court.
Ed: I think he’s going to lose — not in the Senate, but in the election — but I may just be projecting my own extreme Trump fatigue onto my fellow Americans. Many of them probably relish four more years of this daily madness.
Ben: My fellow Americans, I do not understand you.