Has the Endgame Started?

Frank Rich says so:

It is important to remember that the unrelenting lockstep loyalty of the feckless GOP leadership and the party’s base to Trump are not indicators of his fate. An occasional outlier in the Jeff Flake vein aside, Nixon’s party was wholly loyal to him too. Like today’s Vichy Republicans, they remained loyal despite the indictments of Cabinet members and aides as close to Nixon as Manafort, Cohen, and Michael Flynn have been to Trump. They remained loyal after the nation was riveted by the devastating Watergate hearings of the summer of 1973, which portrayed all the president’s men as counterparts to the mobsters seen in the previous year’s Hollywood hit The Godfather.They remained loyal even that fall, when Nixon’s firing of the special prosecutor in the “Saturday Night Massacre” attempted to blowtorch the Constitution and the rule of law.

As a counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the 1974 impeachment inquiry pointed out in a Times op-ed piece ten days ago, Nixon’s defenders routinely dismissed Watergate investigations as a political “witch hunt” intended to reverse the Democrats’ 1972 electoral defeat. As late as the end of July 1974 — less than two weeks before Nixon’s August 9 helicopter departure from the White House lawn — most Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted against all articles of impeachment. Many Republicans on the committee continued to support him even after the August 5 release of the “smoking gun” tape revealing that Nixon had ordered a cover up of the Watergate crimes.

The kicker, of course, is that Democrats controlled both houses of Congress at the time. But they still needed Republican votes in the Senate to remove Nixon from office. When a delegation of Republican senators led by Barry Goldwater told him that the Senate would vote to convict him, Nixon resigned the next day.

Trump, unlike Nixon, is out of touch with reality. He doesn’t know how to count votes, and he believes he can defy the law with impunity. (Nixon, a lawyer, could only lie to himself about his criminal exposure up to a point.) But, whether Trump recognizes it or not, the fact remains that his main and perhaps only hope for clinging to office is that Republicans hold the House in November.

It’s unlikely that Democrats in the House will seriously try to impeach Trump as long as there is no possibility the Senate would convinct him. And unlike a lot of people, I agree that impeachment alone is kind of pointless. If Trump is impeached but not removed from office, he and his supporters would take that as a vindication, and his position would be stronger than ever.

In short, don’t directly attack the beast if you aren’t sure you can kill it with one blow. But if the Democrats take the majority in the House, they can do the one thing that I suspect would destroy Trump — release his tax returns.

Nonstop congressional investigations will attempt to illuminate every dark corner of an administration in which the kleptocracy extends from the Trump family to most Cabinet departments. Those close to Trump, both in his family and in his immediate circle, will fear for their futures, both legally and financially. The GOP and the Trump Organization alike will be on the ropes, and in full panic.

See also Trump Organization Could Face Criminal Charges From Manhattan D.A. And keep in mind that Trump could face more prosaic political issues, such as the fact that the so-called “deal” with North Korea is about to backfire.

Back to Frank Rich:

If there is a shocking upset GOP victory in November, then all bets are off: America is in worse trouble than we already think and possibly in an existential fight for survival.

But the more plausible scenario is that Trump, even if he has to be pushed kicking-and-screaming by Ivanka and the possible jailbirds Donald Jr. and Jared, gets out of Dodge. As with Nixon, his administration is most likely not to end with impeachment but with a self-pitying and self-justifying resignation in which Trump lashes out against both Republicans and Democrats, declares another ersatz “win,” and flees.

And then, of course, most likely President Pence will pardon him for federal charges, but that would leave the possibility of convictions on lots of lovely state and New York City charges. However, when dealing with a personality as unstable and deluded as Trump’s, it’s possible he wouldn ‘t resign but would have to be removed from office and then, forceably, from the White House. Kicking and screaming.

Right now, Republicans in Congress are holding firm in support of Trump. But they held firm in support of Nixon, too, until they didn’t.

But when this White House collapses, it will happen fast. As the Washington reporter Elizabeth Drew, who covered Watergate for The New Yorker, would conclude, “In retrospect, the denouement appeared inevitable, but it certainly didn’t feel like that at the time.”

Martin Longman:

The one thing I don’t think is helpful is to continuously talk about how the Republicans in the Senate will never convict Trump even if the House impeaches him with the support of the American people. They will certainly be reluctant to do so for all the reasons I’ve already suggested, but it will really come down to the facts of the case.

If Trump is proven to have actively coordinated with the Russians despite all his denials, and if the people who were responsible for this are willing to attest to what they did, then Mike Pence is going to look like a very attractive option. To be honest, Pence is much better liked and a better ideological fit for congressional Republicans than Trump. The reason they stick with Trump is because their own ineptitude weakened them so much that Trump was able to take over their party, and now they can’t win without his supporters. They’re caught in a vice.

In the end, after they’ve taken their losses despite sticking with Trump, the remaining senators are not going to be eager to go into 2020 with Trump as their champion. Since they don’t like or trust him anyway, if they can’t win with or without him, it’ll be far preferable to lose without him. There is a limit to how much shit they will eat to defend a man like Trump, and if the evidence comes in and it’s strong enough, there will be enough Republican senators who will choose removal over arguing that Trump should remain in office despite having done what he was accused of doing and then lying about it for two years.

I agree with this also. Keep in mind that Trump’s hard-core base is not in love with the Republican establishment.

The typical Trump supporter had complete disdain for all of Trump’s establishmentarian rivals for the nomination, and that contempt extended (and extends) to the Republican leadership in Congress. They have never liked Mitch McConnell and they especially hate Paul Ryan for abandoning Trump after the Access Hollywood tape came out. They don’t support Republicans in Washington except in the very limited sense that they rely on them to protect the president and enact his agenda.

On the other hand,  polls show that Trump is costing the Republians big in the suburbs, especially among the college-educated, country club class, and even more especially among college-educated women.

That’s why a blue wave in November is essential, and if it doesn’t materialize, we’re doomed. But if it does, then the denouement will not be far behind.

Update: More acceleration — Trump’s CFO is flipping.