Midnight in the Senate of Good and Evil
Uncertain futures surround Trump, but character is still destiny.
I've seen a variety of theories for what will happen if Trump is impeached and the matter referred to the Senate in the past few days. Almost everyone agrees that the smart money is on a speedy acquittal, but folks have begun to cautiously outline the paths they see to conviction, including the numbers and in some cases identities of Republicans who would cross party lines and possibly retire or torpedo their careers in order to rid themselves of Trump's presidency.
Others have spoken of Trump's Senate allies guiding him towards a resignation, by convincing him it wouldn't be worth the punishing battle, and possibly while extending a fig leaf like promising to preserve his legacy by putting Ivanka on the ticket as vice president.
And the possibility has been floated in some quarters that the Senate will of course acquit, but they will negotiate with Trump the terms of his acquittal: extract from him some concessions, some promises to tone it down, put the good of the party above his own, behave better going into 2020, or possibly exit the ticket entirely but without having to resign.
I'm going to be honest, I think both of the ideas that involve folks in the Senate telling Donald what he has to do are unlikely to actually work out for the negotiators. As soon as the Senate acquits him, they lose anything to hold over him, and at the point that he's got what he wants out of it and there's no possibility of losing it, a deal is concluded as far as Donald is concerned. Stuff you say to close the deal is just stuff you say to close the deal. Once you've got what you want, what's the point of actually doing anything else?
That's assuming he doesn't feel insulted by the whole process, doesn't feel like he's being threatened and bossed around. If he feels entitled to acquittal -- and there's every reason to think he does -- anyone trying to chisel a concession out of him in exchange for it is cheating and out to get him. Trump's transactional nature would fully understand "Of course we're willing to acquit you. We need you to do a favor first, though." as a threat to convict.
What's more, I think he understands that a GOP Senate that would try to extract those concessions from him in exchange for acquittal is not actually willing to convict him. They lack the nerve, if not the desire, to actually pull the trigger. And knowing that, Donald will see absolutely no reason to dance for their amusement.
It's possible that someone close to him might prevail upon him to go along with it, that it will be in his interest not to risk everything on a roll of the dice, but it's likely in that case he does so with bad grace, grumbling out of both sides of his mouth, taking potshots on Twitter, openly discussing the negotiation process as something that's deeply unfair to him, etc., and in the process shooting himself in the foot.
But left to his own devices? It's not that Trump isn't a coward. It's that he's enough of a narcissist to believe that if he's a coward, so is everyone else, while also being self-destructive enough to not really care if he loses a game of chicken, so long as he can say he did it his way. It's worked well enough for him so far.
And if they shepherd him through to an acquittal? At that point, all bets are off. He will not feel bound by any agreements he made and will in all likelihood immediately turn around and try to make the people who extracted them understand once and for all who is in charge. A negotiated acquittal for Donald in the Senate would be the worst possible outcome for the country because it would leave him feeling both invincible and like he has something to prove.
I would hope the people in a position to make this mistake understand this much about Donald Trump, after all this time. But I fear that they have made it this far arm in arm with him by very carefully not understanding key things about him, so they can always believe that the pivot is coming, that he's going to get with the program any day now, and that it will all be worth it when he does.
I honestly don't think it's worth speculating which of these outcomes will happen, even the one that seems most likely. Things are changing day by day, and while it's impossible to guess at what the tipping point might be for the GOP to decide he's radioactive and cut their losses, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Much depends on what comes out and what sticks.
I personally hold that any scenario where Trump and Pence go down in the right order and speed to elevate Nancy Pelosi to the presidency is too low a percentage to be worth entertaining.
The boosters of that outcome will tell you that Pence is so compromised, so obviously complicit, that there's no way he doesn't go down. That ignores how difficult just taking down Trump is, and how easily it can all be derailed by the Senate simply denying that Pence is guilty of any high crimes or misdemeanors, or even just saying he's guilty but that it's "unprecedented" for a president to be removed from office and a member of another party be elevated as a result, so clearly there must be some kind of negotiated outcome that respects the will of the people who put Trump and Pence in power, such as having President Pence appoint a Republican vice president and making any movement on Pence's conviction contingent on the new vice president being confirmed.
Of course, if the Democrats go along with this, it's about even odds that Mitch McConnell, having proved the Democrats will still roll over when he cracks the whip, would acquit Pence anyway. It's the same move the Senate GOP made in getting President Obama to nominate their compromise pick, Merrick Garland, to the Supreme Court and then not giving him a hearing, and in watering down universal healthcare into the Affordable Care Act and then not voting for it.
As ever, Donald Trump remains the funhouse mirror version of the Republican Party: magnified and distorted, but ultimately a recognizable reflection of their values. However this shakes out, whatever the GOP winds up doing, the one thing we can count on is them holding onto power with both hands, knowing if they blink and back down in the moment they're likely to lose it all for good.