Conduct a quick Google search of US President ‘Donald Trump’ right now and you’ll no doubt find someone of political purpose suggesting the real estate mogul and TV star is heading down the road toward impeachment – a congressional ‘you’re fired’ of sorts. The catalyst for such murmurings was itself the sensational firing of FBI director James Comey a few days ago. Political correspondents were quick to compare Trump’s actions with President Nixon’s attempt to shut down investigations into what was then his own alleged wrongdoing. (Spoiler alert: Nixon did end up being a crook and was eulogized in such a way by his decades long adversary, the writer Hunter S. Thompson).
Be that as it may, impeachment can’t happen – not yet and not for a while – and not just for the reasons already stated. It has already been pointed out that Nixon’s demise was not an overnight affair, removing a sitting president is a more convoluted process than the ‘slash and burn’ nature of the New York businessman’s previous experiences in the corporate world. But institutional factors and constitutional due process are only part of the puzzle, there is a more thorny reason that only the most audacious congressperson would ignore before supporting the impeachment of President Trump: His 45 million or so red blooded, rusted on supporters. Yes, his popular vote was some 63 million, but with every President there’s a core constituency and a soft vote. Trump’s hard-to-dissuade core is probably somewhere around this 45 million mark and they are going to take longer to change their minds.
Such is the political culture of US election cycles, the executive branch (those who require the support of Congress and the Senate to advance their legislative agenda) are in a perpetual cycle of campaigning. Trump has so far avoided questions of conflicting interests by having his business empire bill his 2020 re-election campaign for services ranging from hotel accommodation to golf clubs. But 2020 is a long way away, what matters is the 2018 midterms and that is a campaign already in full swing. All 435 seats in congress are up for the taking, or more to the point, 435 Republican congressional primaries for some 200 odd Republicans who will likely be seeking re-election. Add to that a handful of Republicans up for re-election in the senate, in the deep red states of Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas.
Democrats, many of whom still speak with a level of incredulity about the presence of Trump in the White House, have dedicated the past 4 months to picking apart each of his orange glazed gaffes and hypocritical backflips. Meanwhile, the same commentators point to a decline in Trump’s popularity, some 10% since his inauguration according to RealClearPolitics. They hope that as a potential indictment becomes closer to materialising it can be married to a swift impeachment process with the blessing of a voting constituency outraged by a man they once trusted to be their commander and chief.
Delusion is indeed a powerful drug, for every rant featuring in liberal leaning publications that seek to debase a man they claim has already filed for moral bankruptcy; there is one simple factor that overrides the mood of Conservative voters: Neil Gorsuch. Long will it be forgotten that it was the establishment Republicans who stalled the nomination of a Supreme Court nominee until after the 2016 election. It was Trump that promised to crush the Clintons and install a conservative Chief Justice – and that is exactly what he did. Whether Trump had some help from outside influences is virtually a red herring in the minds of those still smarting at the idea that gay couples can order a cake from their shop (and eat it).
So the political reality for Republican lawmakers is that Trump’s support is still strong among the very people who will decide the fate of such lawmakers in the aforementioned primaries. The religious fervour of his supporters can be mobilised in numbers substantively higher than what has been accomplished by the Tea Party in recent congressional elections. And like the Tea Party, he could quite easily direct his faithful to stand against the incumbents wavering from the platform of populist conjecture he rode into the White house. While the Tea Party arguably peaked as a movement in 2014, and with only limited actual successes, it showed that incumbency is neither sacrosanct nor guaranteed. This is now the blueprint for an embattled President, with all the powers that the apparatus of the executive branch of Government brings.
Unlikely you say? About as unlikely as Trump Presidency, one would have thought.
TL;DR? Getting your man nominated to the Supreme Court > Everything else. Impeachment won’t happen till 2019, if at all.