Donald Trump called the midterms a referendum on his presidency and was delivered a sharp rebuke in the election as Democrats took control of Congress. Will the Democrats make good on their promise to push Trump out?
On Tuesday, Americans went to the polls in record numbers to cast a vote in the 2018 mid-term elections with the House, one-third of the Senate, fifty Governor mansions, and state assemblies up for grabs in what was the first nationwide election since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.
While Trump’s name wasn’t on the ballot, this election was entirely a referendum on his job performance, with the sitting president holding the lowest approval rating of any incumbent entering his first mid-term, and with forty-two percent of respondents in a recent poll declaring their vote represented “opposition” to Trump. Another alongside 28 percent said their vote was an expression of support for the president.
In short, this election was a contest between those who wanted to put a check on Trump’s presidential powers and those who wish to enhance it, a reality acknowledged by Trump when he said, “I'm not on the ticket, but I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum about me.”
The result was clear and unambiguous: a large majority of voters are dissatisfied with Trump’s effort to divide Americans along racial lines; his racially motivated gimmicks (Muslim ban and sending US troops to the US-Mexico border); his attacks on democratic institutions, norms, and the free press; and his total disregard for the truth, a reality underscored by the fact Trump has made more than 6,000 false or misleading statements since taking office.
Moreover, American voters have demonstrated they remain endeared to a checks and balances democracy, and thus expressed alarm towards the Republican Party’s stubborn refusal, or rather moral cowardice, to constrain or condemn Trump’s worst impulses and recklessness, while, at the same time, blocking any real investigations into his probable ethics and constitutional violations.
To impeach or not to impeach?
With the Democratic Party taking the House, however, the functions of congressional oversight promises to be restored, and thus for Trump, his behaviour will be restrained and meaningfully investigated for the first time since seizing the Oval Office, which brings into view Trump’s worst nightmare: impeachment.
While leading Democratic Party figures have avoided campaigning around the word “impeachment,” out of fear that such an election strategy would galvanise and mobilise even lukewarm Trump supporters, House Democrats now have the votes to impeach the 45th president of the United States. Any process, if started, will eventually move the “trial” to the floor of the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to oust Trump from office.
Republicans have added to their Senate majority after this midterm.
While no one can be sure which direction Democrats will go once the new Congress is sworn-in in January, it’s likely they’ll veer away from impeachment knowing that such a path is fraught with political danger, fully cognisant of how impeachment hearings against President Clinton in 1998 boosted his approval ratings and hurt the standing of the Republican Party.
A more likely route taken will be to tie the president up in oversight and ethics investigations, ones that will delve deeply into Trump’s dubious financial dealings before and after the 2016 election.
One can only imagine the freak-out Trump will have when Democrats subpoena his tax returns, something that he has gone to great lengths to conceal from the American public.
“If Trump and the Trump family cheated, failed to report, or committed some sort of fraud in their federal taxes, they would almost certainly have done exactly the same with their state and even city taxes,” observes Larry Beinhart.
“The attraction of high-publicity prosecutions is great.”
In other words, while Trump may be able to escape impeachment or federal prosecution by a favourable Senate or Supreme Court, he will likely not be able to avoid prosecution from states and cities in which he and his businesses are domiciled.
Tie him up in legal battles
Andrew Hall, an attorney for former President Richard Nixon's top adviser during the Watergate scandal, predicts Trump will resign before being removed by impeachment; the same way Nixon left office in disgrace in 1974.
Also swirling in the background is the Mueller probe into Russia’s interference during the 2016 election, which has already put Trump’s former campaign manager in prison, a fate also awaiting his former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, and his former accountant and fixer Michael Cohen.
Democrats will most certainly launch an investigation into Cohen’s FBI testimony that alleged Trump violated Federal Election Committee finance laws when the pair plotted to bribe former porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence and to influence the election.
They will also not forget that there are credible claims Trump and his family have enriched themselves by leveraging the power of the Oval Office.
Trump's efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation and claims that Trump’s business dealings go deeper than we know with Russian banks and oligarchs, are two other skeletons the Democrats can drag out of the closet over the next two years.
All of these threaten to expose all of Trump’s darkest secrets, dirty laundry, and government level corruption in front of a global audience.
It’s impossible to conceive Trump will want to stick around for all of this, particularly when he never really wanted the job in the first place.
High publicity investigations, subpoenas, and court cases involving his aides and members of his family promise to be Trump’s reality for the two years remaining in his first term.
In that scenario, a sweetheart deal resignation, one brokered with Senate Republicans and one that guarantees a pardon from his underling and natural successor Vice President Mike Pence would be the best possible outcome for Trump.
Ultimately, this election was more than a referendum on Trump’s job performance, and something far greater than your typical mid-term election.
This was a case of American voters using Trump’s famous tagline against him, “You’re fired!”
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