There is but one way that Trump and the Republican leadership can be removed from their current positions: At the ballot box.
From that perspective, though Monday’s FBI raid on the law office and temporary residence of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen is a big deal, it’s far from the beginning of the end for Trump’s presidency.
Trump is, however, right to be alternately angry and despondent: The FBI acted after having obtained a warrant to search for evidence of crimes including, according to the Washington Post, money laundering, bank and wire fraud. When federal authorities have established probable cause to search for evidence that you violated the law, it’s never good news. And it’s evidence that this is the most serious scandal involving an American president since Watergate — and may end up being considerably worse.
These (or any further) developments are unlikely to break the lockstep Republican support for Trump in Congress and put him into the untenable position faced by Richard Nixon in Watergate.
Despite that, these (or any further) developments are unlikely to break the lockstep Republican support for Trump in Congress and put him into the untenable position faced by Richard Nixon in Watergate. To paraphrase the late Lou Reed, these are different times.
Trump replicating Nixon’s infamous Saturday Night Massacre by firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (and as many other officials at the Department of Justice as necessary until he can find one who will relive Robert Mueller of his responsibilities) won’t be enough for Republicans, that’s clear. It’s quite possible that Trump will take those actions: He tried to fire Mueller in December, reports are already surfacing that he’s weighing the possibility of firing Rosenstein as a warning shot to Mueller and the number of people in the White House willing or able to talk Trump off the ledge is dwindling.
But Republicans could have already prevented Trump from stopping the investigation but didn't — and still could, but won’t. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he will not consider prophylactic legislation that would protect Mueller from being fired, making his claims that Mueller should “be allowed to finish his job” empty words. If they’re not willing to stop Trump from firing Mueller before the fact, they’re certainly not going to act after the damage has been done.
Republicans could have already prevented Trump from stopping the investigation but didn't — and still could, but won’t.
Impeachment, too, is a complete non-starter regardless of what Trump does, as long as Republicans control the House. Nixon’s forced resignation was the product of a different period in American history, one in which party coalitions were much more heterogenous and presidents could obtain policy successes by getting bipartisan compromises passed by Congress. The members of the party didn’t vote in lockstep, and didn’t vote in lockstep with the president. Those days are gone.
And even if Democrats take over the House after the 2018 midterms, impeachment would be on the table, but Trump’s conviction and removal from office would likely not be. Convicting an impeached president requires a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate, and 2018 would be an exceptionally good year for Democrats if they ended up with even a one-seat majority in the upper chamber.
Does this mean that nothing matters? Absolutely not. The various Trump scandals matter in that they’ve helped to make Donald Trump extraordinarily unpopular for a president presiding over a good economy. The less popular Trump is, the bigger anchor he becomes for congressional Republicans — who will look worse and worse for doing nothing about Trump’s misconduct.
A House controlled by Democrats should focus on conducting many investigations that will reveal the malfeasances of Trump and his associates to the public.
Even if Democrats take the House, focusing on impeachment — which has no chance of resulting in Trump being removed from office and will mobilize Republicans — would be misplaced. The House instead should focus on conducting many investigations that will reveal the malfeasances of Trump and his associates to the public.
Democrats around the country are desperate, and rightly so, to turn back the clock to before Trump’s election. The administration has systematically dismantled many of the Obama administration’s achievements on everything from the environment to LGBT protections to protecting college students from sexual assault to preventing Dreamers from being deported and beyond. It’s repeatedly tried to bar Muslims from entry, ramped up immigration enforcement against law-abiding undocumented people, tried to end Obamacare, pushed a massive tax cuts for the rich and corporations, failed to take serious foreign interference in our elections and is seemingly about to embark on a new war in the Middle East. But, the fact of the matter is that the system is designed to make it difficult to overrule the will of the people (as interpreted by the Electoral College), and there is no quick fix that will simply get rid of Trump and make American reasonable (if not, to borrow a phrase, great) again.
If you don’t like what’s happening in our country, you have to vote and continue voting. Because, as Trump voters demonstrated in 2016, they’re not going to just sit home and let the Democrats win.
Scott Lemieux is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington. He is the co-author of Judicial Review and Democratic Theory and contributes regularly to The Week, Reuters and the New Republic.