Originally published with The New Americana.
Let’s be realistic: Trump will never be impeached. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve it — there could be an argument worth discussing — but a Republican Congress will never do it, and the GOP will be hard-pressed to give up its majority in 2018.
The Constitution permits impeachment proceedings on the grounds of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” but as I’ve previously written, the term “misdemeanors” refers not only to legal infraction but, as Michael Stokes Paulsen describes, to “the broader sense of misconduct or misbehavior — literally of not demeaning oneself properly (‘misdemeaning’) in the exercise of an official capacity or position.” Or, as Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist 65, “the misconduct of public men, or…the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Trump’s opponents could easily present an argument that the president has abused or violated the public trust at least once.
In other words, Trump could be impeached, but he won’t be.
The only other options, then, are that 1) Trump completes his first term, 2) Trump is assassinated, or 3) Trump resigns. Trump won’t be assassinated — I’m sure many a lunatic has attempted to murder every president in modern history, but Secret Service is too competent to allow that to happen, I think. On the other hand, Trump may very well finish his term, but I don’t know if the country can handle this kind of strain for three and a half more years.
All that said, we at least have to consider the possibility that Trump resigns. There’s plenty to be said about the potential causes: frustration with low approval, discouragement about not getting anything done, conclusion that it’s the moral thing to do for the country’s sake (that’s never going to happen), or discovery that the presidency isn’t as much fun as he’d anticipated. The list goes on. But I’m not as concerned with exploring what would cause Trump to resign; plenty have done so already. Instead, I want to consider the consequences should his resignation occur.
These consequences will occur in the form of three C’s: Cabinet, Congress, and Culture.
If Donald Trump resigned today, Mike Pence would become the 46th president of the United States. I’ll save my predictions for how the country would react to this transition for the cultural discussion, but I think it’s safe to say that a Pence presidency would be far more stable and secure than the current Trump regime.
Among other things, we could expect a reduction in the quantity of tweets coupled with an increase in quality. In all likelihood, Pence would carefully craft prepared statements before addressing the public on major events, and he would stick to his notes. Trump’s ad-libbing has gotten him into trouble in the past, but he can’t seem to quit. Furthermore, rather than just announce policy ideas to the Twitter-verse without any follow-up or forewarning, Pence would implement changes through the proper channels with the approval of corresponding cabinet officials. The travel ban, Comey firing, and transgender military ban all suffered from Trump’s dismal implementation.
I believe Pence would put an end to the White House leaks. Trump’s cabinet is still riddled with Obama-era staffers whom Trump will never fire because he agrees with them on policy. Trump has always been a big government guy; his only problem with Obamacare, for instance, is the name “Obama.” He openly supports single-payer and countless liberal platform points. Pence doesn’t. He would oust the Obama holdovers and establish a uniform cabinet.
As for Pence’s potential vice president, it wouldn’t be a popularity contest for reasons I’ll explain under Culture, so you could expect to see a somewhat principled conservative like Pence as first mate. I doubt we’d see Cruz, Lee, or Sasse abandon their valuable Senate influence, but you never know. Honestly, I don’t think it would really matter. I foresee that should Trump resign, Pence would set up a strong cabinet and a mature presidency. Think what you will about whether he’d be a successful president — we should at least be able to acknowledge that his persona would be far more presidential than the man-child in chief.
What happens to Congress, specifically in regards to the 2018 election, depends greatly on the timing of this hypothetical resignation. If Trump follows the Nixon route and steps down three months before the ballots begin, we could see a Democratic upset à la 1974, in which Democrats picked up 48 formerly Republican seats in the House, extending their majority from 242 -192 to 291-144. But if Trump resigns tomorrow, such a turnaround would be unlikely, as there would be enough time for Pence to establish himself as president before voters instinctively lashed out against the establishment. There’s still a chance he could be unpopular, but the vote would be about Pence and Congress itself, not anger at Trump.
Back to impeachment briefly: if Democrats had a majority, impeachment might be plausible. But since the only way they’d obtain a majority is through Trump’s poorly timed resignation, that’s a moot point.
Pence would pursue conservative policy (as he did as governor of Indiana) and most likely put more pressure on Congress to pass more/better legislation. And if they didn’t listen, he could reasonably claim that he had done what he could and shift the public’s blame to Congress.
The previous two points have been largely positive; I think Pence would make a comparatively tremendous president after Trump — almost any conservative would. But this is where things get dicey: I know we’re already in a volatile situation, but I’m not sure if Trump’s resignation would make matters better or worse.
According to a recent poll, 24% of Americans claim that absolutely nothing imaginable could cause them to disapprove of Trump’s presidency. So if Trump resigns, no matter who succeeds him, at least a quarter of the country will be unhappy.
On the flip side, 28% said in the same poll that Trump couldn’t do absolutely anything imaginable to make them approve of his actions, “other than resign.” So would that 28% be happy about a Trump resignation? Maybe for a few days. But they wouldn’t like Pence any more than they like Trump, and Trump actually agrees with the Left on a number of policies. Pence doesn’t. If the Left can despise the first presidential candidate in history to openly support same-sex marriage, imagine how much rage they would direct at the man who won’t eat dinner alone with a woman who’s not his wife.
By that same token, it wouldn’t matter to the Left whom Pence chose as VP; they would hate them anyway, unless it were a Democrat or a RINO, which simply isn’t going to happen. And Trump stumpers wouldn’t be satisfied by any VP pick either, since they’d be too upset by the loss of Trump. As it stands, if Trump stays in office, 28% of the country is guaranteed to be unhappy. If he resigns, 52% will be.
But let’s be honest: the solution to our cultural polarization has little to do with the president, whomever it is. Trump has legitimized the Alt-Right just as Obama validated Black Lives Matter. But I don’t care how we got here; we’re here now. People are angry, riots are happening, and the president alone can’t put an end to the inevitable clash, neither Trump nor Pence.
That said, the chaos will be inestimably worse if Democrats are in control, pledging to rescind our basic freedoms and demonizing the very institutions which protect us. If Trump resigns next year, momentum could dramatically swing in the Left’s favor. If Trump resigns within the year, we could almost certainly recover from the initial blowback in time to preserve a congressional majority. We might even be better off.
Mr. President, if you can get your act together and ride out this term, creating actual solutions and improving the political climate, that would be wonderful. But if you can’t, and if you’re planning to resign, please, Mr. President, do it soon.