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By Robert A. Vella

Before the 2016 presidential election, both the Democratic and Republican parties faced internal civil wars pitting populist insurgents against the post-World War II centrist establishment which blended neoconservative foreign policy with neoliberal economic policy.  It was a microcosm of what was happening across the world particularly in western democracies.  Globalization was making the rich much richer, but it was ruining the livelihoods of many ordinary working class people.  As this wealth gap increased and eroded the prevailing middle class, the resulting societal angst triggered animosity towards both the ruling elites and towards the ethnically diverse peoples who were migrating between nations.  The influx of immigrants incidentally diluted the cultural identity of host populations which in turn spurred rising nationalist and xenophobic sentiments.  The political stage had been set for a populist backlash.

In that presidential election, Democrats chose an establishment candidate (Hillary Clinton) while Republicans chose a presumed populist candidate (Donald Trump, in reality a faux-populist).  Had the mood of the country not been so polarized, Clinton would have won in a landslide.  But, America was so polarized.  Trump won a narrow electoral victory which profoundly affected both political parties.  The liberal and progressive base of the Democratic Party blamed the defeat on centrists forcing a shift leftwards, and Trump’s success precipitated an even more radical shift rightwards for the Republican Party.  The effect on the GOP was so profound that it solidified Trump’s supremacy and forced Republican politicians and officials to either submit or resign.  The GOP had become the Party of Trump, and everyone in America knew it.

The Republican capitulation to Trump may have been an unavoidable practical decision, but it was also egregiously shortsighted.  By putting all their eggs in one basket, the GOP’s fate would rest in the hands of a single leader – a man who could inspire and rally its angry base, yet a man who was personally flawed in just about every conceivable way.  In selling their soul to the devil they intimately knew beforehand, Republicans risked sacrificing a viable future for their party in exchange for packing the federal courts with conservative judges and some fiscally irresponsible tax cuts.  It was a bet only a compulsive gambler would make.

From the very first week of Trump’s presidency, Republicans were having second thoughts.  When Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was caught lying to federal investigators about his Russian contacts, he was forced to resign after less than a month on the job.  The next month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. Two months after that, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for his refusal to halt the Russia investigation and Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to lead it.  In the span of four months, the road ahead for the Trump presidency had been paved over a swamp of corruption which could not support it.  The initial potholes grew larger, new ones emerged, and washouts eroded away whole sections.  Republican congressional members became politically stranded and many subsequently resigned.

When suburban voters – especially women – deserted the GOP in the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans found themselves between a rock and a hard place.  Having lost their electoral margin, they could appease their base by sticking with a president who was likely to fall, or they could cut their losses by abandoning Trump with the intent of reforming the party after his fall.  In either case, GOP prospects for keeping control of the White House and U.S. Senate in the 2020 elections would seem bleak.  If they can’t win with their base, and they can’t win without their base, then what can they do?

Because the GOP has lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives, it will be Republicans in the U.S. Senate who’ll be forced to answer that question.  In 2020, a presidential election year where voter turnout is typically highest, they’ll be defending almost twice as many incumbent seats as Democrats and more than twice as many seats which appear particularly vulnerable at this point in time (see:  2020 United States Senate elections).  GOP senators will not only be concerned about their individual reelection prospects over the next two years, they will also be concerned about their party’s chances for holding the White House at a time when its political brand has been so tarnished by Trump’s scandals (see:  Sen. Susan Collins on GOP primary in 2020: ‘I see nothing wrong with challengers’ and America’s Electoral Map Is Changing).  Added to those worries is the increasing possibility that President Trump will be impeached by the House which would require the Senate to decide whether to remove him from office.  It’s safe to assume that no Republican in the Senate wants to see that vote take place.

So, what will they do?  If what happened during the Watergate scandal – which forced President Nixon to resign – provides any indicator for the current situation, and I believe it does, then the key factor will be how the public perceives the credibility of the charges against Trump.  Nixon’s fate was sealed when his secret tapes were revealed which exposed his complicity in the criminal break-in of Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters, the attempts to cover it up, and the attempts to obstruct the federal investigations into it.  Trump’s fate is more complicated.  His legal vulnerability involves not just one incident, but at least 17 different investigations including:  1) collusion with Russia to manipulate the 2016 election, 2) conspiring with his then-personal lawyer Michael Cohen and American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker to influence the 2016 election by breaching campaign finance laws, 3) working on behalf of foreign interests to illegally affect U.S. politics and policies, 4) violating the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits public officials from using their office to personally enrich themselves, 5) tax evasion and other financial crimes by the Trump Organization and Trump Foundation, and 6) quid pro quo (i.e. pay to play) conflicts of interest involving the misuse of presidential inaugurations funds.

Any of these are criminally indictable and meet the impeachment standard of High Crimes and Misdemeanors.  Taken together, they represent a danger to the Trump presidency which far exceeds that faced by Nixon.  In other words, Trump may be able to clear some of these legal hurdles but he’s unlikely to clear all of them.  Somewhere along the line, evidence of guilt will emerge which will be difficult for the public or for GOP senators to deny;  and, we got a taste of that evidence recently when Michael Cohen’s prison sentence was announced naming Donald Trump (i.e. “Individual-1”) as an unindicted co-conspirator.  At that moment, the crisis will come to a head.

The sheer depth and extent of Trump’s political corruption cannot be ignored by America’s governmental system because it poses a direct and existential threat to it.  It will respond whether through the prosecutorial process, the impeachment process, or through a backroom deal that ends this national nightmare in exchange for legal immunity.  We’ll see which in 2019.

29 thoughts on “The GOP’s Trump dilemma is a no-win situation

  1. Thoughtful appraisal. The only thought that otherwise occurs to me is while I understand that Trump is a nightmare in every possible way, aren’t there other, possible bigger nightmare personae besides him in the corporate hegemony? i.e. may he not be seen as a product of ‘something rotten in the state of Denmark’ rather than a prime cause? So that if he goes, and by whatever means, then what?

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s no doubt that America is teetering on the edge of a disaster of its own creation. Trump is certainly a symptom of a far larger problem which I partially detailed in this editorial. However, Trump’s corruption is egregious even by this new lower standard, and his raging megalomania represents immediate threats to democracy, the rule of law, and to the peace and prosperity of the entire world. When faced with so many concurrent crises, solutions must be prioritized. The longer Trump remains in the White House, the less chance America will have to address any of them. He simply must go and soon.

      Liked by 3 people

      • And yet … he’s mightily gearing up for his 2020 run. I suppose you’re read the latest? He’s already collected a massive amount of campaign money. If we’re so lucky as to get rid of him next year, where does all that money go?

        Liked by 2 people

        • This isn’t his “rhetoric.” I read it in a news article …

          “Politico reported that Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) will merge into one group named Trump Victory.”

          Politico also called it “a stark expression of Trump’s stranglehold over the Republican Party.”

          Like

        • Trump’s statement about having “collected a massive amount of campaign money,” which it appears you paraphrased and to which I was referring, is by definition political rhetoric.

          rhet·o·ric [ˈredərik] NOUN
          1. the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.
          2. language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.

          How he is actually planning his reelection campaign is completely irrelevant to this post. Whether or not he gets the opportunity to run again is relevant to this post.

          Like

      • It’s one of my favorite comedies. I own five seasons on DVD. There are so many great characters it’s difficult to pick a favorite. Besides Yemana there were Amangual (played by Gregory Sierra, who was on two other great sitcoms back in the day – Sanford & Son and Soap), Harris (played elegantly by Ron Glass), the one-of-a-kind Inspector Lugar (played by the talented James Gregory) and Fish (played by Abe Vigoda, who portrayed Sal Tessio in “The Godfather”), as well as know-it-all extraordinaire Dietrich (Steve Landesberg), Officer Levitt (Ron Carey), Wentworth (Linda Lavin), Wojo (Max Gail) and, last but not least, Barney (played by Hal Linden). The episode with the hash-laced brownies has caused me to wet my pants – more than once! 🤣

        Liked by 1 person

        • Great stuff! I could relate to all those characters in one way or another. Their idiosyncrasies were hilarious: Nick’s filing system, Wojo’s insecurities, Fish’s marital issues, Harris’ vanity, Lugar’s awkwardness, and Lieutenant Scanlon’s fascist internal affairs investigations. Yes, and the brownie episode! Think I ate a few brownies myself watching that one – lol!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I hear you. The characters were fleshed out so deeply that you felt you knew them all. And the acting was great. Nothing ever seemed forced. The timing was right on.

    I also thoroughly enjoyed the episode with the jailbreak expert, played beautifully by the gifted Roscoe Lee Browne. He’s one of my favorite actors. I enjoyed the way Harris was digging his innate wisdom and stealing it for his book. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The sound of sharpening knives | The Secular Jurist

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