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Trump on the slippery slope? A view from the other side of the pond.

May 13, 2017

Those of us Europeans who take a close interest in US politics have been watching dumbstruck at the antics of the nation’s prepubescent president. People I speak to ask why he hasn’t been impeached already, and take bets on how long he’ll last.

While so many commentators in America are harping back to Watergate, we in Europe have other parallels to chew over. Some are relevant. Some less than one might think.

Before we get on to them, let’s think about the chances of an impeachment.

It seems to me, having read countless opinions across the political spectrum, that unless conviction-grade evidence emerges that Trump is a rapist, a fraudster or the paid agent of Vladimir Putin, it’s highly unlikely that an impeachment process will get onto the starting blocks, let alone to the finishing line.

Why? Because a significant number of Republicans in both houses of Congress would need to support such a measure. Since Barack Obama lost control of Congress after the 2010 mid-term elections, the Republican party has become increasingly right wing, and remorselessly partisan. There were times during Obama’s presidency when it seemed as though any measure Obama put forward – even if it was sensible and uncontroversial – would be subject to blocking tactics by the Republicans, simply because it was Obama’s measure.

Now the Republicans have the golden scenario – a majority in both houses and a manipulable naif in the White House. They, and equally importantly those who finance them, see a rare opportunity to line their pockets by entirely legal means. They have the power to pursue their agendas, however venal or extreme.

The opportunity will be available at least for the next two years, until the 2018 mid-term elections. Enough time to cut taxes and spend like demons, but not enough time for any adverse consequences to start affecting the US economy. If they manage to maintain control of Congress in 2018, the window will extend further.

I’ve often heard it said that for the Republican leadership, power, and the interests of the party, are more important than the national interest. If this is true – and it needs to be said that it’s certainly not the case with some senior figures such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham – then it’s easy to understand why, from their standpoint, getting rid of Trump might feel like turkeys voting for Christmas.

The resulting chaos would be unlikely to benefit the party’s chances in 2018, even if Pence took over. The extreme right would probably be outraged at Trump’s ousting. Many of them might decline to vote Republican. We might see a new party of the right picking up votes. The Democrats would be all over their rivals like a rash. The result could be that the Republicans lose Congress, thus hamstringing any further measures Pence might wish to introduce just as his adversaries hamstrung Obama.

So if we assume that an impeachment is unlikely, what’s the fallback strategy for the Democrats and anyone who might wish to limit the damage they believe Trump is causing?

Here’s where one of the parallels with Europe – or more specifically Britain – comes into play.

As a committed Remainer, I would like to see Brexit stopped. If that can’t be achieved, then the next best thing would be a Brexit deal that minimises the risk of serious economic damage. In the forthcoming elections I will vote for whichever party commits to the latter, even if the former now seems unattainable.

Back in America, for the Democrats, Plan A must be removal of Trump before the next mid-term elections. If that’s not achievable Plan B will be to exert the maximum effort to win back Congress in 2018, thereby giving themselves the opportunity to curb his worst excesses.

The Democrats are pretty gloomy about their chances of winning back either house. This piece from Slate.com, written shortly after Trump’s election, explains why. It’s mainly about demographics:

Of the 25 Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018, 10 come from states where Trump won: solid red states Indiana, West Virginia, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota, along with traditional swing states Michigan (still recorded as likely Trump until all votes are counted), Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin—which all voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Tim Kaine also faces re-election in Virginia, a battleground state Clinton won only narrowly on Tuesday.

The math is simple: If the electoral map stays the same colors between now and 2018, the Democrats could stand to gain just one Republican seat while losing 10 of their own, leaving them with an even smaller minority than they held when they lost their majority in the 2014 midterms.

And then there’s the House. Currently, Republicans hold a wide majority, with 239 Republican congressmen to just 192 Democrats. And with Republican gerrymandering, the Democrats could face an uphill battle trying to flip that many seats in 2018.

But here comes our second parallel with Europe

Emmanuel Macron has just been elected President of France. He is a centrist, and effectively an independent, even if he ran under the banner of En Marche!, the party he formed before he entered the race. A year ago, very few people in France would have given him a cat’s chance in hell of taking the presidency. Since 1945, the office has been won either by the socialists or by the Gaullist right. Neither of the two main parties got a look-in this time round. He came through to trounce the far-right Marine Le Pen.

So, you might wonder, with candidates in the US and France coming from nowhere to take the presidency, does that not shorten the odds of a resurgent  – or possibly insurgent – Democrat effort overcoming the demographics and recapturing Congress?

Apples and oranges, I’m afraid. Macron’s efforts were focused on a single objective: winning the presidency. In 2018, we’re talking about 33 Senate seats, 435 seats in the House of Representatives, not to mention 36 state governorships. To make a dent in the Republican numbers will take a determined, focused effort from a united party. The Democrats haven’t yet shown that they can be that party.

Could a new centrist or left-wing party emerge to sweep away the old order? Unlikely, and even if someone like Bernie Sanders crosses that Rubicon, a left-of-centre insurgent will bleed votes away from the Democrats. Note also that Macron may have won the presidency, but En Marche! faces an uphill task in getting enough candidates elected in the next French National Assembly elections. Macron might conceivably end up a President without a party, and therefore with his ability to get things done severely limited.

So the best chance the Democrats have of controlling at least the House, and thereby tying up the elephant, is for Trump to continue to perform catastrophically, to make a series of mistakes that might fall short of triggering impeachment but that will seriously discredit his administration and those who support it. In other words, the demise of the Republicans in Congress is not a realistic objective for the Democrats solely through their own efforts. But it could happen through unforced errors, most probably by Trump himself.

The final parallel between the political landscapes in the US and Europe – again represented by Britain –  is the current strength of the right wing within the Republican and Conservative parties.

The Conservatives have their own equivalent of the libertarian Tea Party. They’re referred to as the Brexiteers. They may have a more limited ideological objective than the Tea Party, but the Brexit package would be applauded by the Tea Party, as it was by Trump himself.

Theresa May is expected to win an increased majority next month. It’s highly likely that a good number of her new MPs will on the right, especially in constituencies where they have the opportunity to win back voters from our own fading right-wing insurgency – the UK Independence Party. The danger for the Conservatives is not that Theresa May is likely to implode in a Trumpian inferno. More likely that the electorate will become steadily more disenchanted with the consequences of Brexit, or die of boredom with her uninspiring persona.

Trump, on the other hand, could never be described as boring. His qualities the very opposite to those that May trots out several times a minute. He’s doesn’t appear strong, despite all the dice that are stacked in his favour. And as for stable, well that’s a matter of opinion, or more likely of clinical diagnosis.

When all is said and done, we shouldn’t be surprised if Donald Trump manages to slash and burn his way through to 2020, and maybe beyond. What America and the world beyond will look like by then is anybody’s guess.

Until then, all that those of us who care about his country and ours can hope for is one fatal error.

From → France, Politics, UK, USA

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