Modern US presidencies generally end in one of three ways: re-election (losing or refusing), running out of time or resigning. Further back, there are the rare cases of assassination (James Garfield and William McKinley are the two you can’t think of) and death in office from illness (from, in order, pneumonia, acute gastroenteritis, heart attack and a cerebral haemorrhage). For all you fans of falsely reassuring statistics, since 1945 6 presidents have done two terms while 6 haven’t. Of those that didn’t, 3 lost their re-election (Ford, Carter, Bush), 2 refused (Truman, LBJ) and one was assassinated (JFK).
So what about Trump? There have been revelations in the New York Times of an organised resistance, swiping key documents off his desk so he can’t sign them, distracting him when he calls for the killing of other heads of state and generally pointing and saying ‘look a blue car’ every time he gets another fascist idea. They are, however, still working for him, and I’m not convinced hiding his paperclips will do in the court of history (see this). Trump has reacted, surprisingly, with a combination of calm, control, and acceptance. Not really. But this hidden ‘organisation’ raises the issue of just how secure a president is in office. Short of the ways above, presidents are very, very hard to remove.
Mike Pence and others have officially denied they have investigated some of the more obscure ways of ousting Trump. You should, as Claude Cockburn said, never believe something until it’s been officially denied. Some have talked up amendment 25 of the US constitution where certain persons can declare a president ‘unfit’, and Trump’s Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein may or may not have looked into it . The 25th looks pretty unlikely. It seems to hinge upon the VP and others stating a president’s ‘inability’ to carry out their job (to make it more fun, the president can, in turn, write a letter proving they are able again and it can all end in a Congressional vote). It’s never been used and looks like some bizarre, terrible nuclear weapon of an open ended process: ‘no, you go tell Trump he’s mentally unfit for office and see how he reacts’.
Impeachment seems even less likely. No president has been successfully impeached. Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 survived their Senate votes and Nixon jumped in advance. The Russia collusion should make a promising impeachment case, but it needs proof and, remember, Nixon was caught by his own recordings, not the allegations. Whatever collusion happened, it needs to have been written down or taped and, most of the time, I think no one’s that stupid (step forward Donald Trump Jr’s emails).
More importantly, how will it be triggered? Impeachment is political and the Republicans dominate both House and Senate (for now). Trump has publically supported Nazis (twice), admitted to sexual assault and thrown toddlers in concentration camps. It’s not clear what it is he needs to do, or indeed what is left to do, to get the Republicans to remove him. And, I repeat, no president has been successfully impeached.
But there is a third option. Three Presidents in living memory have sort of given up. Truman decided not to run in 1952. LBJ pre-refused the Democratic nomination in 1968. And Nixon resigned in 1974 before he was removed. Could Trump do the same?
Here’s the scenario. Wolff’s Fire and Fury book alleged that Trump never intended, and didn’t want, to win in 2016 (it’s all Gwen Stefani’s fault, apparently). So this (I quote) ‘unhinged...liar...with his “fifth grade” intellect’ is an ‘aggrieved and abusive “Shakespearean king” raging in the Oval Office’. By this interpretation he now sits, in an odd reversal of King Lear, as someone granted huge power who never wanted it.
Could it be that the presidency is not like the gentle spats of reality TV world? Enemies in Washington keep digging around. As Clinton showed, when special prosecutors get involved, other things keep turning up. The Stormy Daniels affairs proves Christopher Hitchens’ famous dictum that you should follow the money not the lipstick.
And what does Trump fear most? Wolff claims the Trump family fear all the ongoing investigations turn up something even uglier than collusion. Trump is obsessed, it is claimed, with John W. Dean. He was Nixon’s White House Counsel who, fearing he was to be made the Watergate scapegoat, co-operated and gave evidence to the investigating committee in a blaze of damning publicity. Why, I wonder, would Trump fixate upon someone with knowledge of something turning against him and going public? Now both Cohen and Manafort have flipped, his fears seems to be coming true: a lovely Shakespearean twist. The question is, instead of facing the grind of gradual legal destruction, could Trump just give up, and flee the White House to fulminate back on TV?