Forecast as of New Years Eve 2018 (What’s this?)
So as to impeachment, I do believe Mueller will come back with what amounts to an indictable offense but won’t indict because you can’t indict a sitting President. He’ll submit a report to Congress and let them do their Constitutional job which is to determine if they wish to proceed to impeachment. Here’s where I think it gets interesting.
TLDR: IF the House initiates an Impeachment (which is the bigger if), then I believe the Senate will vote to Impeach or at the least censure (e.g. Clinton.) The maneuvering will be to force Trump to resign or step aside in favor of Pence. But there are two main contingencies in that scenario.
The premise of that scenario is that the GOP establishment has supported Trump in a Faustian bargain to get a tax cut and as many SCOTUS nominees as they can AND because they fear his party base will ax them in the primaries. And if they view him as irreparably harming the party and they can get away with it in terms of a primary challenge they’ll eject him because Pence is one of their dudes and ideologically the same, but less likely to self-combust the whole party.
Now this is not universal – there are Trump Supporters and Reluctant Trump Supporters in the wing. But most of the heavy “Trump Support” was in the House, which with its 2-year cycles being more response to populist waves. And what support remains in the House now is in the minority and can’t do squat. There was always more tepid Trump support in the Senate given it’s more insulated from populist waves with its 6-year cycle.
What struck me with the shutdown is the much more open and derision many GOP Senators threw back in Trump’s face after he torpedoed his own deal and then begged the Senate to get back in session to fix it.
They laughed Trump off. That attitude combined with the Senate breaking hard with Trump on foreign policy: Syria, Afghanistan, Kshoggli and Mattis resignation combined with Trump failing to deliver a strong enough showing in the midterms at State and Federal levels… This is the kind of opening that creates a bit of daylight on the Senate possibly being open to impeachment.
The two main contingencies are of course Trump’s behavior. He’s in full crash-mode right now and if he doesn’t come back with Mattis-lite and start reversing policy course or his behavior, I think he digs his own grave. The Senate will eye the tarnish on the brand, the savior-in-the-wings of Pence (who is unlikely to figure prominently in any Mueller findings) and the upcoming 2020 and make the call.
BUT…the bigger contingency is whether Pelosi will actually call for an impeachment consideration in the House. History has not fared well for parties pursuing impeachment. And although there’s huge support in the base for it, Pelosi seems reluctant to pull that trigger. (This is like the Tea Party demanding ACA repeal post 2010, which was already politically risky and unassured of success because the GOP never controlled both Senate and House by a veto proof majority. IN this case the progressive base is demanding impeachment, unrealistically.)
It depends on the nature of Mueller’s formal accusation – if it’s a confusing and byzantine campaign finance law then that’s going to be a tougher sale than something more inherently criminal or unamerican like Russian collusion – even if it’s the stronger ‘case.”
Pelosi’s calculus is all about 2020: can they take back single party rule of the Federal government, avoid backlash, and keep the gift-that-keeps on giving in energizing her base leading into the Presidential (and subsequent census redistricting) by avoiding impeachment? She’s going to avoid it.
So, what to watch: Does Trump continue to behave as he has in the past two weeks which opens the door for the Senate GOP to oust him AND does Pelosi signal she’s willing to consider impeachment. Interestingly these are opposite correlations to each other: the worse Trump’s behavior, the more likely the Senate will be to decide their Faustian bargain has ended. Conversely, the worse he behaves the less is Pelosi will favor impeachment because “why risk it?” She’d be eyeing a sweep in 2020 versus the uncertainty of an impeachment debacle
I’m giving myself half-credit on this, though I should earn some more for bonus-round predictions made in live time. 😉
I correctly predicted that Mueller would return a non-indictment in accordance with DoJ rules that was also going to get quickly lost in byzantine and complex minutiae, punting the whole thing to Congress with the strong indication they could do something.
I know this puts me in the minority, but I always found the angle of intentional Russian conspiracy a bit of a nothing-burger and Mueller’s report showed this. But in doing so it laid out a bright-line falsification test of what ‘clearly-wrong’ behavior would be. And that line was that although in this case Trump’s campaign was approached by Russia, if Trump himself approached the foreign government to request domestic political campaign support that would constitute a clear violation.
This is important because that’s exactly what the now Impeached President Trump did in the following days and weeks after Mueller released his report.
But I predicted the GOP Senate, secretly wanting to be rid of Trump, would jettison him if there was a strong impeachment case. It is unfathomable to me how the Mueller case ever could’ve been strong as the current case based on the Ukraine scandal in terms of: simplicity of narrative, relatable offense, credibility of witnesses in general, specific temperament and disposition of witnesses under oath. You can’t ask for a better case. And at least right now it looks like the GOP wants nothing to do with this. About the only thing that would lead to a serious trial and potential conviction of President Trump in the Senate is if the GOP mistook him for a black offender. So, I’m talking half-off for getting this wrong. Even though the trial hasn’t occurred yet. If by some contingency, like a secret ballot, changes conditions and the GOP does vote him out I’ll go back and adjust my score. Though I have no doubt some version of this will come up on this year’s AMA.
Running Score: 3.5 out of 12
Bonus Score: If we gained bonus points for live-time forecasting I’d have earned big here. As I mentioned above I have not seen a strong impeachment case against Trump, either in the Mueller report, or many other misdeeds up until June of this year. Then when I saw the NBC interview I jumped on Facebook and marked the time and date when the Democratic party should’ve pounced. In that interview Trump said he’d pursue a hypothetical that was exactly in line with Mueller’s falsification test of a ‘clearly wrong’ abuse of power. I imagine the counterfactual if Democrats had moved to Censure then, that weekend when it was low-consequence and they didn’t need Senate cooperation whether anything would’ve turned out differently.
Because my second bonus-round is when I caught wind of the Ukraine whistleblower scandal two weeks before Pelosi announced impeachment proceedings. I posted on Facebook predicting that – unlike everything else – this would be the one Democrats moved forward on, and in that regard I was right.
But you don’t get bonus points for New Years Eve AMA for getting it right in June and August. 😉