Donald Trump’s presidency is troubled. Many, possibly including the man himself, recognize his inability to grasp the scope and meaning of his office.
Will he remain in office for his full term? There are three paths away from this presidency.
First, Trump could resign. He probably never expected to gain the Republican nomination much less the presidency. Running was an ego trip, a way to put “Trump” up in lights nationally. Coming in second would have been enough. If he lost the presidential race, he would save face by blaming a fixed election.
He may well have been as surprised as most Americans that he won. Ready to complain about a loss due to a corrupt election, he wheeled out the same objection to show that he actually won the popular vote, no matter the official count.
Trump highly prizes his electoral victory and attaches more weight to the mandate it gave him than is normal for any president. Lacking knowledge of history, he overestimated his power and authority.
But political reality hit him. He has admitted the job is more difficult than he imagined. He thought he could act like a corporate chief, giving orders to the government, which would be followed unquestioningly. Congress, the courts, and the FBI let him know he could not control others as he had in his own businesses.
Trump is all about winning. But he found winning in government is not easy. Many in Congress and the media won’t be swayed into accepting bluster as success. The House health care bill was not his; he had no proposal. And though he claimed its House passage as a win, that bill will never be enacted.
Bob Corker, the GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, openly stated that Trump’s administration is in a “downward spiral.” The president may be fatigued and frustrated by his disappointed hopes.
Loss after loss may make Trump wish for the good old days when his whim was law. He could figure that his fame was secure and his fortune would grow thanks simply to his having been elected president.
Either the 2018 elections or the contemplation of them could lead him to turn the government over to Vice President Mike Pence, a conventional politician who could pursue the conservative Republican agenda with Congress. Trump could say he had saved the GOP and that was all he had to do.
Second, he could be suspended from office under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. If the vice president and a majority of the cabinet or a special body created to consider the president’s stability inform Congress that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” the president is suspended.
His preoccupation with the scope of his election victory, unsubstantiated charge that President Obama spied on him, sudden firing of the FBI director, willful blindness to Russian election involvement, and dangerous disclosure to Russians about high-level intelligence could be signs of instability. If it grew worse, suspension might be tempting.
The president may challenge his suspension and ultimately Congress may decide by a two-thirds vote to continue it with the vice president taking over.
Presumably, this amendment is meant to deal with mental disability but the standard for suspension is not stated. That could make possible a judgment that a president’s erratic behavior and attempts to circumvent the law are evidence of a disability making him unfit for his office.
Of course, this could be seen as short-form impeachment, but persistent, irrational actions may not be grounds for an impeachment finding as readily as for an incompetence finding. Such a decision would require the agreement of both major parties.
Finally, there is outright impeachment and conviction for what the Constitution calls “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Once again, there is no precise definition of the terms.
Impeachment would be possible if evidence emerges that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russian during the 2016 elections and the candidate knew about it. It might also be possible if he resorted to illegal actions to preserve his presidency when he felt challenged on policy or the scope of his powers.
Some outside of Congress believe he is already vulnerable. They seek to get a debate started on his removal without any immediate hope of impeachment. But his actions and the results of the 2018 elections may influence further discussion of this option.
The mere threat of impeachment could send Trump back to the first option – resignation. Richard Nixon did that and salvaged some of his reputation by avoiding conviction.
There’s no certainty any of these options would occur. Trump may persevere. But such an unusual president, so far removed from American political traditions, leads inevitably to speculation about an unusual end to his time in office.