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Keeping Trump Alive: A Strange Consensus

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The leaders of both parties are divided on numerous matters, but on one critical piece of business they seem united: keep Donald Trump in office. That rather extraordinary, and by no means welcome conclusion, stems from this simple observation: Republicans want to squeeze as much advantage as possible from Trump’s presidency to pursue and complete their domestic agenda, while Democrats want to squeeze the same advantage from Trump’s constant missteps and failure to push through his agenda. Thus, while Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan make excuses for every Trump excess and idiocy, they still value his continuation in office more than his removal—even for a tweet-less Pence presidency. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, on the other hand, attack every Trump move that undermines democracy and world order, but insist that impeachment is premature and that investigations of collusion and obstruction of justice must be allowed to proceed.

Republicans are hoping against hope that Trump’s agenda can somehow survive. Obamacare will finally be replaced, a big tax cut for the wealthy will be enacted, a Muslim ban will pass court muster, and employment and economic growth figures will start looking good. The emperor’s political health is failing, but they need to keep him alive, at least through 2018. Democratic leaders in Congress will do everything they can to frustrate the Republicans’ agenda so they can underscore Trump’s failures. But while Trump’s defeats may be worth celebrating, they do not equate to Democratic success. We should not underestimate how Republican legislative failures play in red states and Congressional districts.

Let’s face it: Republicans have the odds on their side. The chances are slim to none that Trump will be indicted, impeached, or forced to resign. Even in the best of circumstances, Robert Mueller’s investigation will probably take well over a year to reach a conclusion, and it is by no means certain that the conclusion will be so strongly against Trump as to force a Republican-dominated Congress to take action. And at worst the Republicans have Mike Pence waiting in the wings.

Democrats may think that every day Trump is in office buys votes for them, but the jury (literally) is out on that one. Plenty of analyses have appeared lately to show that Democrats remain deeply divided on strategy for 2018 and 2020—in a nutshell, whether to go for the jugular, as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren et al. prefer, and press for a truly progressive list of domestic reforms, or adopt a modestly liberal approach à la Hillary Clinton (and reflected in the Jon Ossoff campaign in Georgia) that is tailored to particular districts in each state.

Writing in the op-ed section of the New York Times on June 12, Charles M. Blow offers a reasonable guide to the road ahead: “In the end, the Resistance must be bigger than impeachment; it must be about political realignment. It must be built upon solid rock of principle and not hang solely on the slender hope of expulsion. This is a long game and will not come to an abrupt conclusion. Perseverance must be the precept; lifelong commitment must be the motto.”

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Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

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