How Mike Pence can help seal Donald Trump’s political demise
Given the crisis-ridden, dysfunctional state of contemporary American politics, it is probably foolhardy to make any kind of prediction about Donald Trump’s political future. But recent events – together with an appreciation of American political history – suggest that his political demise may already be under way.
Trump’s downfall will not occur immediately – in fact, his exile to the right-wing fringe of US politics (where he always belonged) will be a protracted and difficult process. Nevertheless, it is still likely to happen for a number of reasons – but chiefly because Trump’s January 6 coup last year failed dismally. The investigative process and findings of the Select Committee into the riot will be seriously damning of him. We should also take into account that in the past, the American political system has often defaulted to a bipartisan compromise when it has been plunged into an acute crisis.
It should not be forgotten that Trump’s inept coup attempt failed because the basic institutions underlying America’s liberal democratic political regime held firm. Vice President Mike Pence and the Republican leadership (notably Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and Lindsey Graham) – despite being staunch Trump supporters – ultimately refused to acquiesce in his bid to prevent Joe Biden from assuming office.
In this, they were supported by the Supreme Court – which, despite the fact that three Trump appointees sat on it, firmly rejected his spurious claim that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” – the upper echelons of the military and the administration (in particular the Justice Department and state electoral officials) and, finally, Congress itself.
The ham-fisted coup attempt ultimately collapsed into nothing more than a violent, grubby riot by a few thousand of Trump’s more deluded supporters, who he had cynically manipulated for his own purposes. The outcome could have been different – but the fact remains that Trump’s effort to subvert American liberal democracy failed completely and, paradoxically, this failure may have actually strengthened the US political system.
It cannot be denied that Trump’s coup attempt had – and still has – widespread voter support, and that he still personally controls a substantial portion of the Republican Party voter base. That is why most prominent Republican politicians refuse to attack Trump openly, even now.
His continuing popularity, however, cannot alter the fact that his actions in late 2020 and early 2021 have probably rendered him unelectable as president in 2024.
Those crucial swinging voters (many of whom had been Obama supporters) who opted for Trump in 2016 – because they were justifiably disenchanted with the Democrats and simply could not contemplate voting for Hillary Clinton – deserted him in 2020. It was their votes that elected Biden, and they have now been lost to Trump forever, as a result of the events of January 6.
Astute Republican power brokers, even those still beholden to Trump, are aware of this. They also know that he would behave in precisely the same way in 2024 as he did in 2020, if given half a chance. Trump, nevertheless, remains a powerful force in American politics – feared both by Democrat and Republican politicians alike.
The Democrats’ main problem is that Joe Biden cannot possibly run for office in 2024. Leaving aside issues regarding his age, health, and capacity, his presidency to date has been a failure – and the Democrats have no other credible candidate. No matter how damaged Trump may be, the Democrats do not want to face him in the battle for the presidency in 2024.
Nor can there be any doubt that the Republicans are likely to obtain majorities in both the Senate and the House in the mid-term elections to be held in November. Even so, they have an additional problem, quite apart from Trump’s probable unelectability – namely, his vindictive determination to destroy all those Republican politicians who he believes, quite correctly, prevented his attempted coup from succeeding.
Not only has Trump publically denounced Pence and McConnell and others, but he is actively campaigning to disendorse a number of sitting Republican senators and congressmen, including the 10 who voted to impeach him.
It is this curious circumstance – namely, that Trump poses a serious threat to both the Democratic and Republican parties – that opens up the possibility of a bipartisan compromise designed to destroy his political influence forever. And there are now indications that such a compromise – driven primarily by the political self-interest of both major parties – may be taking place.
The Democrats have launched an unprecedented full-scale attack on Trump’s legitimacy focusing on the attempted coup, that commenced with Biden’s very forceful January 6 anniversary speech, in which he accused Trump of “putting a dagger to the throat of democracy” and “creating a web of lies about the 2020 election.”
Most Republicans remained silent or very muted in their criticism of Biden, and mainstream Republicans are now clearly content to stand by while the Democrats continue to attack Trump on this issue.
But in a recent article in the Washington Post, Pence described Trump’s actions on January 6 as a “power grab,” while characterising Biden’s electoral reform legislation in precisely the same way.
More ominously for Trump, Republican politicians and staffers are now co-operating with the Select Committee investigation – in order, no doubt, to covertly assist in bringing about the former president’s downfall.
This week ,Trump’s former press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, who resigned on January 6 last year, testified that he held a number of secret meetings at the White House in the lead-up to the riot. Three of Pence’s senior staff members have already testified, and Pence himself appears likely to give evidence in closed session in the near future. The Select Committee has also recently asked a number of Republican congressmen to appear before it.
Pence and others who have alienated Trump have little to lose by testifying – after all, they have no future in any Trump-led Republican Party. It is likely, too, that Pence may be motivated by a potential run at the presidency himself in 2024.
It is already clear that the findings of the Select Committee will be damning of Trump and his coup supporters, and may well result in criminal charges being brought against those involved by the Justice Department. The Select Committee has already accumulated a great deal of evidence, including thousands of documents – the vast majority of it not yet made public – and will commence televised prime time daily hearings shortly. The parallels with the Watergate hearings – that did so much to finally destroy Richard Nixon’s credibility and support – are obvious.
There is little doubt that the committee will have the support of the Supreme Court throughout its inquiry – especially the three Trump appointees, who will presumably be anxious to give the lie to the suggestion that they are on the court to do his bidding. This was dramatically confirmed this week when the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s claim for executive privilege in respect of White House documents relating to the events surrounding the riot, with only Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting.
Trump’s cancellation of a speech that he planned to give on the anniversary of the riot suggests that even he may have belatedly come to realise his support for those involved seriously damaged his political credibility. His dilemma, though, is that he cannot back away from his support for the rioters without alienating his voter base. When he recently tried to hypocritically pose as a champion of Covid vaccination at an event in Dallas, his mostly rabid anti-vaxxer supporters actually booed him.
Any bipartisan compromise will involve the Democrats meekly accepting their losses in the upcoming mid-term elections, together with the probable election of a Republican president – other than Trump – in 2024. This means that Biden’s entire legislative program will effectively be put on hold – including, most importantly, his voting rights legislation – and traditional conservative Republicans will control American politics for the foreseeable future. This is perhaps a relatively small price to pay for the elimination of Trump from the scene and the preservation of liberal democracy.
US political history also suggests that a compromise of this kind is very likely. The infamous disputed presidential election of 1876 created an acute political crisis for the American political system. Congress was deadlocked for months, until a compromise was reached between the Republican Party leadership and Southern Democrats.
The Democrats allowed the nondescript Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, to become president – and in return, the Republicans agreed to dismantle reconstruction in the South, and give Southern Democrats carte blanche to disenfranchise southern blacks and introduce the odious Jim Crow regime.
African Americans paid a terrible price for this political compromise – one that has haunted US politics ever since. Nevertheless, the immediate political crisis was averted, and liberal democracy (albeit, in a debauched, racially discriminatory form) survived. Republican and Democrat political elites brokered a similar compromise at the end the Watergate crisis, whereby Republican leaders forced the disgraced President Nixon to resign, thereby ending that ongoing political debacle.
It cannot be disputed that Donald Trump has created an acute political crisis for American liberal democracy. His actions following his election loss in 2020 have shocked many politicians from both parties – some of whom bear responsibility for empowering him in the first place – as well as a significant segment of the American people. It is to be hoped that political compromise is now being put in place that will bring about Trump’s political demise, and restore the basic integrity of the American political system – insofar as that is possible – at least for the immediate future.
The alternative simply doesn’t bear thinking about.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.