by Bruce Dunlavy
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President Donald Trump surprised most when he was elected to office in 2016. Now that his term of office is half over, speculation has turned to the next presidential election in 2020.
Trump has made it known that he plans to run in that election, and is already openly campaigning and collecting contributions from supporters for his 2020 run. This is certainly not unexpected, since the last sitting president who won the office on his own (i.e., by being elected to it, not by succeeding to it on the death of his predecessor) and then declined to run for a second term was Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880.
Thus it is not surprising that Trump has announced his intention to run again. The question now being discussed is whether he can (or will) win again. Many factors influence his chances. What will the national and world economies be like in 2019 and 2020? Will he be able to hold the allegiance of those who voted for him in 2016, and if so will they turn out in sufficient numbers? Perhaps most importantly, how much will he be damaged by the findings of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and the convictions/guilty pleas of his associates?
But wait, you say – what if Trump is impeached and convicted (or otherwise removed from office)? As of this writing, I feel confident that isn’t going to happen. Yes, the Democratic Party controls the House of Representatives in the next Congress, and thus theoretically has the votes to impeach Trump at any time and for any reason, as the Republican Party did with Bill Clinton 20 years ago.
It is possible that the Democrats might bring forth articles of impeachment in order to hold hearings that would be a festival of Trump-bashing. They might even pass such articles just to put the Republicans through an awkward and embarrassing Senate trial. But it takes a two-thirds vote to convict in the case of an impeachment. Getting to that total (67 of 100, assuming all Senators are present for the vote) would require at least 20 Republicans to vote for conviction. The Republican Party is now so thoroughly in the thrall of its extreme wing that – even in the presence of overwhelming evidence – many Republican senators would be fearful that a vote to convict would lead to a difficult re-election for themselves.
In any case, impeachment is not an easy path. It takes months to collect and arrange the evidence, prepare the case, and hear the arguments. The House hearings and vote would not occur until the second half of 2019. If impeachment is sent to the Senate for trial, there would be an even longer delay, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a master of procedural manipulation who can keep the issue blocked for even longer.
I do not think the Congress or the country has the stomach to spend most of the second half of Trump’s term arguing impeachment. Why would even the Democrats want to go on with it? A conviction could not be secured until the next election would be less than a year away, and current Vice President Mike Pence would be able to run for president as an incumbent.
What about the 25th Amendment, whereby the president may be removed for disability? Take a look at the amendment, and you will see that removing a president under those protocols is even harder than impeachment. It’s a non-starter unless the president is either comatose or acting like Jeffrey Dahmer.
Image credit: shareblue.com
Having said all that, I will now propose what is a more likely scenario: Donald Trump will choose not to run for re-election in 2020.
What? Donald Trump – the man who never quits, who never admits defeat, who is consumed with winning, winning, and more winning? Why would he not want to win again? The answer is more than just the possibility that he might not win. The answer is, because he doesn’t need to. A second term as president has little if any upside and a considerable downside.
One term as president has given Trump all he wants and all he needs. He never really wanted the job, anyway, and he doesn’t like doing it. What he likes is the flash and thrill, the obsequious bowing and scraping of subordinates, and the roaring admiration of his supporters. He has that already, and a second term would not add to it, only create the possibility of it all coming undone.
Here’s what Trump has to gain from running again: if he wins, he gets to keep doing what he’s doing, but most likely with an even more recalcitrant Congress and a system that makes him a lame duck as soon as the election is over. There are a lot of chances for things to go wrong and not many chances to do better than he has already.
Here’s what Trump gets if he retires after one term:
He still gets called “Mr. President,” and people still genuflect to him. He gets the Secret Service protection and other perks, among them a $200,000-dollar annual pension and rent for an expensive office. He gets to be consulted as an “elder statesman” and asked his opinion on everything going on with no obligation to do anything other than spout off about where everybody went wrong. Any concerns about possible legal action for in-office crimes once he is no longer a sitting president can be assuaged by pardoning himself on the way out the door. He has the means and the persistence to keep that issue tied up in the courts until everyone else loses the will to fight about it.
More importantly, he gets the opportunity to make gobs and gobs of money that he cannot make as president. When out of office, he will be able to devote even more time to going around giving rousing speeches to those who adore him, without having to consider those who don’t. Unlike now, he will get paid for doing it. He will get paid a lot.
It used to be considered unseemly for an ex-president to try to use that status to make money. For the first 190 years of ex-presidents, only one – Ulysses Grant – attempted it, and he failed when his business partner turned out to be a crook. The rest of them just retired rather quietly. Then, in 1989, newly-retired Ronald Reagan went to Japan and made two million dollars for giving two speeches.
Subsequent presidents have earned much, much more. Bill Clinton’s total fees from speaking engagements are in nine figures. George W. Bush made 15 million from speeches in his first three years out of office. Barack Obama has made plenty from both speeches and books. Trump’s royalties from The Art of the Deal (actually written by Tony Schwartz) already amount to millions, and Bill Clinton has “collaborated” with grind-‘em-out novelist James Patterson with much financial success. Lending his name to everything from clothing lines to steaks has always been a successful ploy for Trump, and he certainly would be happy to have it on the cover of a few more books.
That is why I think President Trump will not run for re-election in 2020. He will declare victory and leave. He will announce that he has accomplished everything he set out to do and that he is universally acknowledged as the greatest president in American history. Then he can head off to the money machine that ex-presidency provides. Why would he want to wait another four years to enjoy that, especially given his age? Instead of four more years of being president, he can have four more years of being ex-president, which is sort of the same thing, but with much less work stress and much more money.