Andy Schmookler: Rule of law in America? It’s up to Trump voters
Let me demonstrate, in a few steps, why it is likely up to Trump voters whether the rule of law will be upheld in America. At least up till 2019.
First, it is pretty clear that Donald Trump has committed enough “high crimes and misdemeanors” to warrant moving toward his impeachment.
Understandably, that may not be clear to watchers of Fox News. But most of the rest of the world sees pretty clearly Trump’s pattern of obstructing justice and abusing his power.
Granted, these matters call for further investigation. But little uncertainty remains that a strong case can already be made.
(And that does not even get to the questions – still unanswered – about the “underlying conduct.” That is, what is it that Trump and his gang are trying to hide: when Flynn lied to the FBI about his contact with the Russian ambassador, when Attorney General Sessions lied under oath about his contact with the Russians, when Jared Kushner feloniously left off his disclosure statement his quite memorable contacts with the Russians, and when the president himself fired the FBI director – as he himself said — because of the Trump/Russia investigation?)
Second, offenses by a president cannot be dealt with by the criminal justice system. Whether or not Special Counsel Robert Mueller ends up sending Flynn and Kushner to jail for their apparent felonies, a sitting president can be indicted and tried only by Congress.
But third, at present, both houses of Congress are controlled by the Republicans, and they are protecting the president.
Two explanations are generally given, by observers, for why these congressional Republicans are shielding Trump. (Their protection of the president – judging from reports of what they say privately — is not because they’re blind to Trump’s offenses.) But of those two, only one seems to hold water.
The explanation that does not seem to work is that the Republicans are so eager to pass their agenda that they want to keep Trump in place to sign the legislation they pass. But what sense does that make?
If Trump is impeached, we would get a President Mike Pence, who would also sign such legislation. (Also, Pence’s sobriety would give those Republicans a lot fewer headaches than the reckless Trump.) Even if Pence were also impeached – presumably because of the lies he has apparently told that may constitute complicity in a cover-up – the next person in line is Paul Ryan. And surely Ryan would sign legislation that he himself has been pushing.
So that leaves the second reason given: that the Republicans in Congress are protecting Trump because they fear angering Trump’s supporters–voters upon whom they, too, rely to keep their own seats in Congress.
These office-holders surely care a great deal about keeping their jobs.
That’s why, so long as so much of the Republican base supports Trump (approximately 80 percent), Republican senators and representatives will fear acting against him, regardless of their oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
All of which adds up to this: the supporters of Trump now hold the Trump card. If these voters stick by their man, despite the wreckage he is inflicting on the American system, Trump’s position looks impregnable. At least until the American people elect a new Congress in 2018.
But that points to a serious dilemma for these Republican office-holders: a strategy good for most of them individually may prove disastrous for the GOP as a whole.
Most of these Republicans come from non-competitive, heavily gerrymandered districts. Getting defeated in the general election by a Democrat is less of a threat to their staying in office than getting primaried from the right.
Add to this how unshakeable a great many in the Republican base are in their support of Trump. Evidence of this unshakeable support includes last week’s astonishing poll result, regarding the conflicting accounts of Comey and Trump: 70 percent of Trump voters believe Trump (whose serial lying has been thoroughly documented) over Comey (whose history of truthfulness is affirmed by virtually everyone who has worked with him).
These combine to suggest that shielding Trump will remain a good survival strategy for most individual Republicans.
But meanwhile, in the nation as a whole, substantial majorities of Americans – including independents — disapprove of Trump. And already, nearly half of the nation supports beginning the impeachment process.
Thus, the self-protective choice by congressional Republicans to tie themselves to Trump – whose popularity is already low and whose scandals are still growing – may drag down the Republican Party as a whole. A party discredited in the eyes of 60-some percent of the American people will not fare well.
As ye sow, so shall ye reap.
Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author, and was the Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012. His newly published book is “What We’re Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – And How We Can Defeat It.”