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Analysis
Trump has his own party to fear

Trump has his own party to fear

First-term impeachment plausible

by Brian Reading in London

Fri 24 Feb 2017

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Last August I predicted that, if he won the US presidential election, Donald Trump would be impeached in his first term. The betting odds have shortened dramatically.

Only three presidents have ever faced impeachment: Democrat Andrew Johnson in 1868, Republican Richard Nixon in 1972, and Democrat Bill Clinton in 1998. All faced opposition-party control in one or both chambers of Congress. Today, Republicans control both the White House and Congress, and Trump has his own party to fear.

It may be assumed that all 194 Democrat legislators will vote for impeachment. They will then require the support of 24 Republicans for a simple majority in the House of Representatives. In the Senate trial 46 Democrats and two independents will presumably vote guilty. A two-thirds majority in the 100-seat upper chamber will therefore require the support of 19 Republicans. The House will possibly avoid impeachment proceedings if it looks probable that the Senate will reject them. The betting odds boil down to guessing whether 19 Republican senators will break rank, and when.

Incumbents will try to save their seats in the 2018 mid-term and 2020 congressional elections. Senators are elected for six years and one-third face re-election every two years. In the 2016 Senate elections there were 10 Democrats and 24 Republicans, two of whom lost their seats. Both were in states voting for Hillary Clinton. This was the first time in recent history that the majority party lost Senate seats.

I calculate that 16 out of 30 Republican senators will be moderate- to high-risk losers by the end of Trump’s first term. Depending on local and national opinion polls, 19 defections are plausible.

The presidential election tells the divisive story. Trump is the least popular newly elected president. Most entrants to the White House win some support from the losing party – Trump gets hardly any. Support for the new administration remains high among Republicans for keeping his promises, despite doubts about his character and competence.

If Congress makes haste slowly, a successful first-term impeachment becomes more probable. If it acts prematurely, Trump may survive. Much will depend on markets and the economy, which Trump’s victory boosted.

The danger of a financial crisis cannot be ignored. The economic outlook remains benign, but uncertain. The post-2009 recovery is quite advanced, and Trumponomics is full of contradictions. Protectionism policies will backfire.

The administration is shambolic. There are endless grim predictions in the American and international media. Trump is attacking the establishment, even if most attacks remain rhetorical. Where not, the courts and Congress can obstruct him. Outside Washington such resistance, however legitimate, could be counter-productive. Congress and the judiciary are said to ignore the ‘will of the people’. Republican Senators that might support impeachment will follow public opinion in their states closely. Out of 52 Republican incumbents, 30 face election battles by November 2020. But first they must succeed in primary elections, where they could be punished.

Everywhere the establishment is under attack for failing to provide benefits for all. This is Trump’s most valuable asset. If his policies succeed, he wins. If they fail, he can shift the blame to the establishment. Nonetheless, I would still bet on impeachment. As his time in office passes, Trump is more likely to make new enemies than new friends.

Brian Reading was an Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Edward Heath and is a Member of the OMFIF Advisory Board.

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