President Trump has defied naysayers for two years running, so he’ll probably shimmy out of this week’s scandals over intelligence leaks and James Comey’s dismissal. But what if he doesn’t?
Removing a president is a momentous step, so Republicans should pursue 25th Amendment proceedings or impeachment only if they find clear evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors or an inability to discharge the president’s duties. But what if they do?
One Republican Congressman is already talking impeachment. Other, more private doubts about the president could bubble up if the controversies snowball. The quiet, barely discussed specter of President Pence looms over the GOP in Washington. Since President Trump will probably never jump the shark, that prospect should be irrelevant. But what if it isn’t?
Just imagining a President Pence for a minute, one thing is clear: overstressed Republicans in Washington could finally put down their fidget spinners.
Pence was a relatively successful governor and a loyal running mate. His conservative instincts are unimpeachable. But he’s no Messianic figure. He won’t heal the nation’s divisions or “Make America Great Again” again.
But the bright contrast will shift the party’s image immediately. With some drama, President Pence could immediately assuage both Democrats (by pursuing mutually appealing policy areas – criminal justice reform anyone?) and Trump voters (by, of course, pardoning Trump for any laws he may have broken).
In the new administration, many Trump loyalists will have to go (bye bye, Sean, Jared, Ivanka, Kellyanne) but solid public servants can remain and serve alongside fresh faces eager to help President Pence after an angst-ridden period in American history.
The most prominent one? Pence’s choice for vice president. If he goes bold, he can instantly rebrand today’s Republican party. My suggestion: former South Carolina governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has received rave reviews at her current job.
With a more predictable president, international tensions will ease as Pence rebuilds relationships with countries Trump has unnerved. And his domestic policy will be solidly conservative – more reliably conservative than the Trump administration, for sure.
Pence checked all the conservative boxes as governor of Indiana: he cut taxes and opposed abortion while supporting school choice, the coal industry, and gun rights. (And unlike Trump, he has consistently supported free trade.)
He famously calls himself “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order” but in contrast to his wildly exaggerated reputation as a vicious homophobe, he is not doctrinaire. Despite his moral and political opposition to needle exchange, for example, he reversed himself when Indiana faced a rash of HIV infections related to drug abuse in 2015. He saw people suffering and pursued a program he didn’t like that was proven to work. America needs presidents who listen and learn.
But we haven’t had dessert yet: soon after Pence’s inauguration, Justice Anthony Kennedy will surely retire, at which point conservatives might as well throw a party. Kennedy is said to be reluctant to step down for fear Trump’s choice of a replacement would not be, well, judicious. A new conservative justice this presidential term would invigorate Republican legal priorities, and any other retirements could guarantee a conservative Supreme Court for a generation (only two young liberals currently serve).
A Pence presidency would invert current American politics, highlighting policies and ideas while downplaying personalities and showmanship. Republicans could start to shake off the remaining tremors from the roller coaster ride of 2017 in time to play defense in 2018 and earn a second term in 2020, as every president save one has done since the 1980s.
Understandably, after the trauma of the 2016 election, it’s easy to get spooked that if we lose Trump we’ll get Hillary. We won’t.
Republicans in Washington must respond to Trump’s scandals with deliberate, measured caution. But it can’t hurt to know that if our president does have to go, we’ll be just fine.