Worry About Pence, Too


Professor Corey Robin says we should not fear a President Pence. He notes that an impeachment and removal would not necessarily give the Republicans a strong leader in Pence because the context, or “political space,” as Robin calls it, would have changed. He writes,

Trump steps down, Pence steps up, and things go on as they would have had Trump never appeared on the scene. There’s no sense in that story of what effect Trump being pushed out would actually have on the GOP (their demoralization and internal sense of confusion and chaos) or the Dems or the left (their newfound sense of power). If Trump is pushed out, one side will feel terrified (yes, conservatives can be scared, too), the other will feel emboldened and powerful. Why do you think the GOP is sticking by Trump so much as it is? Because he’s delivered anything for them so far? He hasn’t. It’s because, having made their bed, they have no choice but to lie in it and hope against hope that they’ll somehow, at some point, get a good night’s sleep.

According to him, those who worry about Pence taking over are missing the forest for the overall environment and not realizing that, when the bulldozers come, they’re coming for more than Trump. That’s true if he remains in office through the 2018 elections. But what if he doesn’t? What if the Republicans are already planning a presidential switcheroo?

I agree that the political space or context within which politics and policy (more specifically, political actors and, to some degree, citizens) is dynamic and changes. Where Robin veers off course, though, is when he makes the assumption that the Republican Party would be disheartened to the degree of immobility by an impeachment.

I argue that despite the turmoil of an impeachment, it would still give the Republicans a president. And that gives them a leader. In Pence, conservatives will get the emotionally stable and mentally competent (as far as that goes) politician who will gladly push far-right policies on U.S. citizens just as fervently as he did in Indiana.

Let’s be clear: It is impossible that Pence would have been elected president on his own, but, at this point, it wouldn’t be too difficult for him to rise to the challenge of returning the country to a semblance of normalcy. It would be an accomplishment. Not much of one, but an accomplishment nonetheless. Would it be enough of an accomplishment to earn him his own term? Well, that’s just too far down the rabbit hole for me to follow.

That’s all to say that, if the Republicans were to depose Trump before November 2018, they would still have control of the legislative and executive governmental functions (and the U.S. Supreme Court?) and, suddenly – because these things happen slowly and then suddenly, The Sun Also Rises-like, a conservative in the White House without continuing distractions-by-tweet/leak. The political space would shift, but would it shift enough to further destabilize the Republican Party? Or would they circle the wagons as they are wont to do? As we can already see, Trump voters still support Trump. Republicans could be hurt more by an exodus of pissed-off Trump voters from the party. This, I’d say, is doubly likely given so many of Trump’s swing state voters were cross-overs who had previously voted for the Democratic Party.

The mixture of angry (McCain) and tepid (Paul Ryan) Republican responses to Trump and the ascendance of far-right ideologues (Bannon, Miller, et al.) into executive control of our government can be chalked up to the loony-but-not-quite-so-trigger-happy Republicans in Congress biding their time while the smoke-filled-room dwellers plan Trump’s demise.

Notwithstanding the Republicans’ standard operating not-quite-there-ness, anyone attempting or plotting to undermine Trump will not go unpunished – or unnoticed. You can be certain Trump wouldn’t be unaware of any plot to rescue the presidency from him. He may be unaware of domestic and foreign policy, but one can damn sure rely on him knowing about threats to his character and position. This may very well explain why Pence is kept outside-the-loop on so many matters, even those in which he was personally involved, like Flynn’s lying. Trump and his coterie know who his true enemy is, and they aren’t letting him get any intelligence.

Should a Democratic landslide occur next year, the political space/context will indeed change again. We might finally have the numbers to do more than resist; we will be able to oppose, and maybe, just maybe, win. That will only be the case if our elected officials are willing to fight. Unfortunately, I have little faith they will.

If November 2018 results in the Democratic takeover of Congress or even just the Senate, Trump’s impeachment and removal from office (assuming we have the numbers) should shortly follow the swearing-in of new members. In that case, the political space will have clearly changed enough to stunt the growth of Trump’s power and the Republican Party’s acquiescence to the power-mad idiot to allow a rollback of their hurtful policies and the rise of a progressive social movement.

I hope.

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