Can 20 U.S. senators withstand the potentially irresistible temptation to reverse the results of the 2016 election and remove a president a number of them openly or privately dislike?
Since Donald Trump announced his intention to run for the White House on June 16, 2015, many of the entrenched elites across the various power centers of Washington and beyond have spent many of their waking hours trying to stop or unseat him.
The political charade of an impeachment “investigation” is but the latest example. But that impeachment charade could harbor the greatest threat to Trump’s presidency.
Over the past week, I have heard from three seasoned Republicans who fear that President Trump and the West Wing are seriously underestimating the potential danger of a Senate trial. Human nature and common sense dictate that, despite the well-meaning resolution circulated by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) condemning the House impeachment process, it’s important for the White House to understand that the weight of history is settling upon the shoulders of these senators — some of them quite weak — and because of that pressure, private conversations are taking place and a trap may be sprung for the president in that trial.
A potential trap set by seemingly loyal Republican senators.
Those I spoke with, like others, worry that the impeachment process, especially a potential conviction in the Senate, will forever poison the integrity of our constitutional and congressional processes and put every future president at risk of having his or her election reversed for partisan and ideological reasons.
But such is the lingering animosity about Trump by many in the GOP establishment, and there very well may be enough Republican senators willing to topple the first domino and set in motion a chain reaction — no matter the consequences.
In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in October, former governor and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley put her finger on the greater issue, saying in part, “President Trump is a disruptor. That makes some people very happy, and it makes some people very mad. … When I was in the administration, I served alongside colleagues who believed the best thing to do for America was to undermine and obstruct the president. Some wrote about it anonymously in The New York Times. Others just did it. They sincerely believed they were doing the right thing. I sincerely believed they weren’t. … No policy disagreement with him … justifies undermining the lawful authority that is vested in his office by the Constitution.”
What’s at stake, Haley said, “is not President Trump’s policies. What’s at stake is the Constitution.”
She is correct, but does all of this go beyond Trump being a disruptor? As we have witnessed, Trump is being opposed, called out and undermined through leaks by multiple anonymous and named sources from the “deep state,” his own National Security Council, former White House staff, former and current Pentagon, State Department and diplomatic officials, members of Congress and their staffs, and basically every other agency within the federal government.
There appears to be a common thread that runs through all of this opposition and stated hatred: “He is not part of the club. He is not one of us. He can’t be controlled.”
The unrelenting opposition to Trump is not based on the fictional quid pro quo with Ukraine’s president but rather a desperate need by the entrenched establishment from both political parties to maintain the status quo of their all-powerful club — aka part of the “swamp” Trump sought to drain.
For Trump to be convicted in a Senate trial, 20 Republican senators would have to join forces with the 47 Democrats. We should not worry about those who openly dislike Trump, such as Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine) or Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); we should worry about those in the purple states, who face tough reelection fights in 2020, and those who have continually criticized and demeaned the president in private.
What is driving all of this, of course, is the fear that Trump will win reelection. Well, 63 million Americans voted for him in 2016, and 20 GOP senators soon may have the power to invalidate those votes. Can they resist doing so and vote not to convict? Conventional wisdom says that will be the outcome. But as we all know when it comes to Donald Trump, you can throw conventional wisdom right out the window.
For that reason, when it comes to a trial in the Senate, Trump and the West Wing need to remember the sage advice of President Ronald Reagan: “Trust, but verify.”
Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant and author, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.