President Ivanka?

Let’s do some fun speculation today!

Mike Pence might want to start sleeping with one eye open (gripping his pillow tight). Donald Trump’s trip to Japan and the Korean peninsula was predictably weird, ending with his impromptu play date with Kim Jong-un at the DMZ serving as a climax to an already botched excursion in which Royal Princess Ivanka Trump was crowbarred into the proceedings for some reason.

Cutting right to the chase, I think it might be possible that Lord Dampnut is grooming Ivanka, rather than Trump Jr., to succeed him. This is a move that would solve a couple of Trump’s most harrowing problems.

There’s apparently a rumor circulating among Republican circles in Washington in which Trump suddenly declines the nomination sometime next summer, presumably for health reasons, then lobbies the convention delegates to toss their votes to Ivanka as his rightful heir and the 2020 nominee.

Don’t shoot the messenger! It’s an actual thing, as far as rumors go anyway. Here’s some possible calculus behind such a radical move.

There are two possible ways for Trump to avoid federal charges when he leaves office (assuming he leaves office): One is that the next president decides not to investigate the previous president and orders his attorney general and U.S. attorneys to back off, like Obama did with the Bush administration. The other is a presidential pardon.

The first option is definitely a possibility. Newly inaugurated presidents have never really allowed their attorneys general to investigate the previous gang regardless of what they’ve done. It’s a long-standing tradition, for better or worse, that if interrupted, could trigger an endless cycle of vengeance in which each new president pursues criminal charges against the former president of the other party.

Trump’s ascension launched a new paradigm for presidential politics however, with social media users and especially Trumpers driving the rejection of old presidential traditions. So it might be possible for, say, former prosecutor Kamala Harris to deviate from tradition and go for the indictment of her predecessor. As long as she’s willing to risk being investigated should a Republican succeed her, she could easily do it. Same goes for the other leading candidates. I don’t think anyone would lose sleep over this, other than some historians and anyone with the last name “Trump.”

The second option requires a move that Trump has explicitly stated he’ll never make: Resigning the presidency. Trump said recently, “I don’t leave,” which was an utterly chilling remark for those of us who still hope for a peaceful transfer of power. There’s always a possibility that Trump will refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election if he loses.

Of course, the inauguration of the next president on Jan. 20, 2021, would likely just proceed without him, maybe with Trump hunkered down inside the White House. Under the Constitution, the new president takes office at noon on Inauguration Day, no matter what the old one does.

No one knows exactly how that would work, given it’s never happened before, but chances are the screeching on Trump’s Twitter feed wouldn’t prevent the next president from being recognized as the rightful chief executive. That would largely depend on how much backup he gets from Republicans in congress though.

Even if you take “I don’t leave” to mean Trump doesn’t plan on resigning, at some point, Trump might realize there’s only one solid, reliable way to keep himself from being indicted after leaving office. Perhaps as more Democratic presidential candidates announce their intentions to prosecute Trump and other conspirators, as Beto O’Rourke did in the debates last week.

He’ll need to step down and allow his vice president to be sworn in. That new president is the only human being who can realistically, legally and legitimately pardon Trump. It’s the Nixon/Ford scenario of 1974.

There’s obviously the nightmare scenario in which Trump is re-elected next year, forestalling an indictment. That still doesn’t get him off the hook entirely, though. Trump can’t legitimately pardon himself (probably). Even this Supreme Court might not permit such a preposterous move.

If he thought he could do it himself, he likely would’ve done it already. The next Republican president, meanwhile, has to wait until the 2024 election, but Trump could already be in prison by then.

If Trump wants a foolproof escape hatch, it has to be a resignation followed by a pardon.

That’s where Princess Ivanka comes in.

There’s an outlier chance the rumor is true and Trump will try to install Ivanka as the nominee, replacing himself at the top of the 2020 ticket, with a pardon waiting in the on-deck circle. But I’m not sure she would have a better shot at winning than her dad. Then again, Trump’s rise to power means anything’s possible.

Assuming he doesn’t pursue this radical notion of persuading the convention to nominate Ivanka in his stead, I see a chance Trump might replace Mike Pence with Ivanka as his running mate.

Before you poo-poo the idea, bear in mind four things:

1) Trump is now the nominal head of the party.

2) The Republican National Committee has basically merged with the Trump re-election campaign

3) Mike Pence’s name was conspicuously absent from the campaign signs and other materials during Trump’s kickoff event in Orlando (was he even there? I can’t recall).

4) Ivanka was conspicuously present schmoozing with world leaders at the G20 in Osaka over the weekend.

Despite Pence’s groveling loyalty, Trump might want to bring the vice presidency into the family. That would ensure that if Trump needs a pardon, it’s waiting for him no matter what. Remember, the Trump crime family is all about Mafia-style omertà and unquestioning loyalty (to the boss anyway). Who knows if a hypothetical President Pence would want to spend what little political capital he would have on a pardon?

That might not be in Pence’s self-interest. With a Trump/Trump ticket, dad is free to resign at any time after he’s sworn in for a second term, followed by an immediate pardon from his daughter, the new president. And as a bonus, the Trump dynasty is established!

Trump’s only other option is to try to invalidate the 2020 election if he loses, and he’s already starting to lay the groundwork for such a plot. He’d probably need a hell of a lot more than a kooky conspiracy theory about nonexistent California voter fraud to convince even this Supreme Court to overturn a legitimate vote in the Electoral College though.

We should prepare ourselves for the possibility that Trump will stop at nothing to keep himself out of prison. Even a traditional, by-the-book Trump re-election would only be a temporary measure. Some are predicting New York will step in to slap him with state charges. But New York’s attorney general is pursuing civil charges rather than criminal charges at the moment, so relying on the Empire State to pick up the slack is iffier than you might think.

The only way Trump gets prosecuted for obstruction of justice and other charges arising from the Mueller Report, or anything else in his galactic series of potential crimes, is via a Democratic administration’s attorney general. The only way he avoids those charges is through a pardon or the next president’s refusal to prosecute. I don’t believe Trump plans to leave his fortunes to the tender mercies of a President Sanders or President Warren. And I don’t think he trusts anyone outside his inner circle to pardon him.

The best-case scenario for the nation is a Trump loss in 2020 and a Democratic presidential inauguration in 2021, with Trump’s prosecution proceeding soon thereafter. He has to see this possibility growing larger through the front windshield every day. So, he’ll have to do some shuffling to maximize his successor’s loyalty while doing whatever is necessary to win re-election. Ivanka could be his version of the Chernobyl reactor’s AZ-5 button, his failsafe mechanism to abort any possible prison time.

The Next Nightmare

Polls currently show that all of the major Democratic presidential candidates are pulling way ahead of Donald Trump. While Democrats should take nothing for granted, there is at least some reason hope that Americans will turn out in large numbers and Trump will be soundly defeated in 2020. That victory would be both exciting and an enormous relief, a moment when we can collectively begin to believe that the national nightmare is ending.

If that does happen, the next nightmare will likely begin. It may be minutes, hours, days, or even weeks, but at some point between Election Day November 2020 and Inauguration Day January 2021, odds are that Trump will declare that the election was “fake news” and refuse to vacate the White House. There will be no peaceful transfer of power.

This past weekend showed some disturbing signs of this. Internal polls commissioned by the Trump campaign were leaked, showing that he is trailing badly in several battleground states. In response, Trump angrily called the polls “fake” and then fired the pollsters.

He also suggested on Twitter (where else?) that it was possible “the people would demand that I stay longer” than two terms of office, using his joking-not-joking strategy to suggest that he’s not hemmed in by laws or the Constitution when it comes to retaining power.

A talking point of Democrats who are reluctant to begin an impeachment inquiry is that Trump needs to be removed at the ballot box, not by impeachment. The argument is that Trump can’t be removed from office through impeachment since Republicans, who control the Senate, will refuse to convict him no matter how much evidence there is. Which is true. With rare exceptions, Republicans have shown that there is no level of criminality Trump could display that they are unwilling to accept, so long as it allows them to retain power.

But it’s also why there’s a real danger that, if and when Trump refuses to leave office after an electoral defeat, Republicans will go along with it. And why not? They haven’t drawn any line yet when it comes to Trump cheating or breaking the law. On the contrary, Republicans were already flouting the law in their attempts to retain control over all levels of the government even though a majority of Americans have rejected them at the polls. So far, there appears to be no limits to what Republicans will allow, so long as it entrenches their power.

Republicans have been doing it even before Trump came along. Gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts predated his candidacy, taking off in earnest after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Mitch McConnell refused to hold any hearings for Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, on totally bogus pretenses so he could hold the seat open for a Republican president to fill. This trend goes back to the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, in which the Supreme Court’s conservative majority handed George W. Bush the presidency rather than allowing a recount in Florida.

McConnell’s response to the Russian criminal conspiracy to undermine the last election has been to reject any effort to prevent such conspiracies in the future. Bills have been written and passed by the House to shore up election security and McConnell simply refuses to bring them for a vote. Trump made clear, in his interview last week with George Stephanopoulos, that he fully intends to cheat in 2020 the same way he cheated in 2016. McConnell’s response has basically been, “Cool!”

Republicans are so complicit in Trump’s criminality that it is simply a statement of fact to note there is no chance that the Senate would vote to convict Trump in an impeachment trial, no matter how serious his crimes are. If they refuse to throw him out for being a criminal, why would they throw him out because he lost an election?

We have to presume that Trump and the Republicans will not be hemmed in by law or custom when it comes to holding onto power they haven’t earned. It would be deeply unwise for Democrats to pin their hopes on the possibility that Trump will suddenly, after all this time, become the kind of man who would admit he lost an election, or that Republicans will finally decide that there’s such thing as “going too far” when it comes to taking power in defiance of democratic will.

How should we deal with it when Trump declares the election void and Republicans back his play? The time to plan for that is now. Being caught flat-footed and scrambling to catch up will only make it easier for Trump to entrench the idea that his hold on the White House is absolute, just as he and Republicans have entrenched the idea that it’s normal and acceptable for the Senate to refuse to convict him no matter what.

Unless Democrats move swiftly and forcefully when Trump refuses to leave the White House, (and they need to plan for “when,” not “if”) Republicans will be able to make the Trump Dynasty feel inevitable, as they’ve done with other successful efforts at gutting American democracy.

The Beast is Freed

Over the last few months, we’ve have grown accustomed to Donald Trump in his cornered-rat mode, lashing out and ruminating obsessively over the possibility of his impeachment. But his tweets so far this week have been surprisingly cheerful, and a cheerful Trump is bad news for everyone.

First, overcome with the pleasures of racist sadism, Trump tweeted o Monday night that “ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens.” No reason to think that’s not going to be horror show.

Trump’s gleeful sadism continued a few hours later, when the always highly caffeinated Gröpenführer wrote, at 1:10 a.m. on Tuesday, “Only a few people showed up for the so-called Impeachment rallies over the weekend.” “The numbers were anemic, no spirit, no hope,”

As painful as this is to admit, Trump is right that the impeachment rallies attracted poor turnout. That’s not due to a lack of public support for an impeachment inquiry however. More than half of Americans support at least an impeachment investigation, which is much higher than support for impeaching Richard Nixon was before the Watergate hearings began. Instead, as Trump correctly diagnosed, the low turnout was because liberals and progressives are demoralized, since it seems the House Democratic leadership is determined to do nothing to shine a light on Trump’s extensive corruption and criminal behavior.

After Trump admitted on camera that he’s open and eager to keep doing crimes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remained as firm as ever on her refusal to start an impeachment inquiry. If Trump telling us that he plans to commit more crimes won’t move the needle, a bunch of people in a plaza with witty-but-angry slogans on a placard isn’t going to do it either. So of course the only people who showed up are the insufferable types who actually enjoy protests.

Trump has realized that he can do whatever he wants and no one is going to stop him. Which is clearly his greatest pleasure in life, one that even outstrips buying the silence of porn stars whom he pressures into underwhelming sex.

Half the reason Trump does bad things is because he gets off on getting away with it, as demonstrated by the innumerable contractors he’s screwed over and the wives he’s cheated on (all of them). He infamously bragged, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Apparently, it also won’t’ convince Nancy Pelosi to allow an impeachment inquiry.

Pelosi’s reaction (continue to do nothing) to Trump’s admission to Stephanopoulos that he would be happy to commit more election fraud in 2020 lets him know there are no limits. There’s nothing he can do, no crime so big that he can admit to doing, or say he would do again, that will actually propel Democratic Leadership to allow an impeachment inquiry.

Starting the inquiry and taking stronger measures to arrest witnesses who refuse subpoenas would go a long way towards wiping the gloating smirk off Lord Dampnut’s face. But for some reason, Democratic leaders seem more interested in complaining that no one cares about their go-nowhere health care bills than in taking the fight to Donald Trump.

So it’s no wonder Trump is feeling good. He realizes that accountability for his abundant misdeeds isn’t coming and he’s free to do what he wants with no danger of facing any consequences. Trump has slowly become more emboldened over the past couple of years, but now he’s coming into the realization that the Blue Wave of 2018 was not the threat to his power he thought and feared it was. Now there’s reason to worry he’ll conclude the same about the prospect of losing the 2020 election.

What happens when a man who has no moral compass realizes he can do whatever he wants without consequence?

This Cowardice Cannot Stand

There is no better encapsulation of the difference between the two American political parties than this: Republicans start from the presumption that “treason” and “spying” will be prosecuted without evidence, while Democrats start from the presumption that only once they have seen all the evidence of everything ever, they might conclude that some further investigation is warranted.

Donald Trump leads deranged stadium rallies in chanting “lock them up” without even specifying who committed what crime. Democrats, faced with a case of what would be felony obstruction of justice but for a legal guidance against prosecuting a sitting president, insist that they cannot initiate impeachment proceedings because they need to gather more information.

This isn’t a new problem. Those who feared that the Mueller Report would never be the smoking gun Democrats were dreaming of warned that limiting the scope to criminal obstruction and illegal “collusion” needlessly blocked out a massive range of criminal and impeachable offenses committed by Trump and his confederates.

For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, political calculus continues to take precedence over the rule of law. That position is becoming more and more untenable, as cracks appear in the Democratic front and even a Republican member of Congress is able to point out what is right in front of us. “Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment,” GOP Rep. Justin Amash understands what is obvious to anyone who has read the Mueller report in good faith: We have more than enough data to name and investigate the crime. Amash has been joined by a fistful of renegade Democrats who are finally content to say “we know enough.” If not enough to impeach, then at least enough to initiate an inquiry.

The problem is that if congressional Democrats refuse to see the big picture, after the staggering proof put forth in the Mueller report, the daily reports of gross financial misconduct and corruption, and the administration’s growing refusal to accede to any form of congressional oversight, one has to wonder what hypothetical evidence might persuade them that, um, CRIMES.

Perhaps some belief in Trump’s infamous boast that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot a man without losing support has spooked Democrats to the point of paralysis. The reality is that Democratic Leaders on the Hill know what criminal obstruction looks like, they’re just too terrified to say so. At any rate, I would stay off of Fifth Avenue.

The other problem is that House Democrats want to look like measured and rational adults in the face of the biggest toddler tantrum ever witnessed in presidential history, one in which the Constitution is being re-purposed as a diaper. But as any parent or even uncertified Red Cross babysitter will tell you, every time you decline to impose consequences, you move the line for acceptable behavior a little further.

Mueller is himself trying to look measured and rational by demurring from testifying. Looking adult and rational in the face of abject insanity is not always synonymous with bravery, especially when the other side is shouting TREASON and LOCK THEM UP and INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS.

“But wait!” Democratic leadership might say. “What’s the downside of these drawn-out court fights brought on by what is itself impeachable conduct?” (See: Article III of the Nixon impeachment articles). The downside is the appearance that there is virtually nothing Trump could do to trigger an impeachment proceeding, something Trump sees, relishes, and will bank on in whatever he does next.

Democrats who say they want to focus on the economy, or the 2020 elections, or other “kitchen table” issues give up more and more authority to the reckless, power-snatching Gröpenführer by the day. By attaching no real consequence, they are essentially telling the country that Steven Mnuchin can keep defying House subpoenas of the president’s tax records and Donald McGahn can keep refusing to testify on obstruction of justice.

In ceding that power to Trump, who already believes himself to be all-powerful, they’re making it so.

Just Do It Already

Every presidential scandal has at least one memorable line that everyone recognizes immediately. Nixon had “I am not a crook,” and Bill Clinton will be forever remembered for “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The line that will likely be most remembered from the Trump regime is from the Mueller report: when Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Donald Trump that a special counsel had been appointed. He slumped in his chair and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

The Mueller investigation had Trump in despair from the very beginning. He was so anxious about it that he spent the next year and a half obstructing justice in a dozen different ways, publicly trashing everyone involved in it and attacking the reputations of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Whether that reflected his guilt over his behavior in the Russia matter or concern that the FBI was turning over other rocks he’d rather not be touched is still unknown. These are not the actions of an innocent man.

The debate about impeachment gets hotter wth Lord Dampnut’s every refusal to acknowledge congressional power under the Constitution. On Thursday the Washington Post reported that Nancy Pelosi held a closed-door meeting with the Democratic caucus, telling them to stick to policy issues that people really care about and forget about impeachment. She acknowledged that some Democrats are feeling a little down about the refusal to consider impeachment, but no one in the room objected to her edict. Evidently, they are all convinced that voters are not concerned about whether their president is a criminal or that American democracy is in peril.

Voters are not going to buy that. People understand that getting a conviction in the Senate in an impeachment trial will be nearly impossible, but they also know that passing any Democratic bills in the Senate, and then getting Trump to sign them, is just as unlikely.

Every Democrat knows that Donald Trump deserves impeachment. They just can’t decide whether it’s good strategy to do it. Pelosi obviously doesn’t think so. Others are saying they should.  Many legal observers believe that impeachment proceedings will give the House leadership the clout they need with the courts to force the administration to comply with subpoenas, so in that sense it’s almost a necessity.

Voters didn’t hand Democrats a big majority in the midterms for the purpose of passing a dream agenda only to watch it die in the Senate. There are currently 23 presidential candidates talking about the bread-and-butter issues every single day (the ones that will actually talk about policy anyway), and people will be hearing all about them. They sent the Democrats to Washington in 2018 for one reason: To stop Trump.

It’s becoming more important every day that Democrats focus on doing that. Trump is still the most powerful man in the world and downplaying the threat of impeachment gives him a green light to keep doing everything he’s doing. It’s not just about the 2016 election or even the pattern of obstruction of justice anymore. It’s about what he’s doing right now.

Even if Democrats never actually vote on articles of impeachment, holding hearings, using the power of their congressional mandate, and showing the Gröpenführer that they will turn over every rock whether he likes it or not is the only way to keep him from doing his worst.

Bullies only back down when someone stands up to them.