By Robert A. Vella
I’ve spent the past few weeks observing and interacting with Trump supporters in my community. Their reactions regarding the widening legal troubles closing in on the President have run the gamut. First there was uniform defiance and rigorous counterattack, then excusatory rationalizations, then outbursts of indiscriminate anger, then incidents of consternation, and then early indications of reticence and emotional seclusion. Far from their cultural image as mindless hate-mongers who’d gladly sacrifice themselves in defense of Trump, his supporters are reacting much the same way as any group of people would when the faith they’ve bestowed upon their chosen leader has been badly shaken.
And, therein lays their dilemma. Trump supporters – who are predominantly undereducated, fervently religious, and extremely tribal – have placed all their political eggs in one basket. Should he fall, there is no other leader of his ilk to replace him – not at the national level, at least. Donald Trump is a rare, if not unique, political figure in American history. The aggressively populist Andrew Jackson probably comes closest, but even his incredibly bold persona cannot compare to the volatile megalomania of Trump. To find a more apt comparison, one must look to Interbellum Europe and the rise of fascist nationalism.
This deep passion for a political messiah directly relates to the religiosity of Trump supporters, and it is destined to fail as a matter of course. Whereas their spiritual leader (i.e. Jesus) is a mythical figure of their own creation who is absolutely perfect as a subjective perception, Trump is a mere mortal man so imperfect that it is readily apparent to everyone. To vest all of one’s political interests in a single individual is a foolhardy venture at best, and it is especially so when the perfunctory savior is as ethically and mentally flawed as Trump.
The GOP establishment, no matter how much it sways to the hurricane force winds of populist angst, holds no such delusions of Donald Trump. They are first and foremost political pragmatists motivated by self-interest. They universally opposed him during the presidential primaries and suddenly switched to supporting him only when his nomination became a foregone conclusion. They would turn on him again in a heartbeat if he became a political liability or if they saw some political advantage in doing so. It is this reality which holds the key to Trump’s ultimate fate.
There is no question now that the severity and scope of Trump’s legal troubles are impacting public opinion. Trump supporters are largely holding firm, but they are fraying around the edges. Independents have swung sharply against him, and no development is likely to change this trend short of a series of acquittals in upcoming criminal trials or a conclusive report by special counsel Robert Mueller stating that Trump did not collude with Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election. Therefore, the outcome of this November’s midterms will have a major effect on what the GOP establishment decides to do and when to do it. If Republicans keep control of both houses of Congress, Trump will be emboldened to stop the Mueller investigation and GOP leaders will acquiesce at least for a while. Should Democrats prevail, resistance against Trump obstructing justice in the Mueller probe would intensify as would calls for his impeachment.
Assuming the second scenario (i.e. Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives), GOP leaders in the Senate will look at the impeachment math. If there are sufficient votes to remove Trump from office (this prospect greatly depends upon Trump’s own actions), they will be motivated to issue the President an ultimatum (either implied or explicit) – resign for the good of the party, or else. Assuming the first scenario (i.e. Republicans maintain control of Congress), a make-or-break constitutional crisis could very well unfold pitting Democrats, Independents, the preponderance of public opinion, and legions of federal judges, law enforcement, national security, and military personnel against Trump and the Republican Party. This would be a confrontation which could trigger a deadly coup d’é·tat, a devastating civil war, or something even worse.