The problem with Pence
Republican senators will soon be receiving an invitation to tear apart the GOP ahead of the 2020 elections, and they are going to decline to accept it.
It’s a trope of pro-impeachment commentary that it should be simple for Republican senators to swap out President Donald Trump, who puts them in awkward positions every day, for Vice President Mike Pence, an upstanding Reagan conservative who could start with a fresh slate in the runup to the 2020 election.
This only flaw in this scenario is that it is entirely removed from reality.
If Senate Republicans vote to remove Trump on anything like the current facts, even the worst interpretation of them, it would leave the GOP a smoldering ruin. It wouldn’t matter who the Democrats nominated for 2020. They could run Bernie Sanders on a ticket with Elizabeth Warren and promise to make Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez secretary of the treasury and Ilhan Omar secretary of defense, and they’d still win.
A significant portion of the Republican Party would consider a Senate conviction of Trump a dastardly betrayal. Perhaps most would get over it, as partisan feelings kicked in around a national election, but not all. And so a party that has won the popular vote in a presidential election only once since 1988 would hurtle toward November 2020 divided.
How does anyone think that would turn out?
A lot of Trump supporters are going to want to blame the Republican establishment even if Trump loses in 2020 with the backing of the united party apparatus. Imagine what they will think if a couple of dozen Republican senators decide to deny him the opportunity to run for reelection, without a single voter having a say on his ultimate fate. It’s hard to come up with any scenario better designed to stoke the populist furies of Trump’s most devoted voters.
Trump himself isn’t going to get convicted by the Senate and say: “Well, I’m a little disappointed, to be honest. But it was a close call, and Mike Pence is a great guy, and I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to serve in the White House for more than three years.”
He won’t go away quietly to lick his wounds. He won’t delete his Twitter account. He won’t make it easy on anyone. He will vent his anger and resentment at every opportunity. It will be “human scum” every single day.
And it’s not as though the media is going to lose its interest in the most luridly telegenic politician that we’ve ever seen. The mainstream press would be delighted to see Trump destroyed, yet sad to bid him farewell. The obvious way to square the circle would be to continue to give Trump lavish coverage in his post-presidency. He’d be out of the White House but still driving screaming CNN chyrons every other hour.
In other words, Trump’s removal wouldn’t be a fresh start for Pence and the GOP; it would be more like getting stuck in the poisonous epilogue of the Trump era, awaiting the inevitable advent of the Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg era.
All of this is why the “cracks in the Republican Senate” coverage is so ridiculous and overwrought. It depends on the idea that GOP senators – who, it is true, are continually frustrated by Trump’s controversies – are on the verge of engineering their party’s own destruction.
It’s possible to come up with a scenario in which Ukraine developments are much worse than imaginable right now, and Trump’s support craters, even among Republicans. Then, you might have GOP senators voting to convict. This is just another path to the immolation of the party in 2020, though; there’s no way it would snap back from a Nixonian meltdown at the top in less than a year.
In short, Mike Pence might be elected president one day, but it’s not going to be while presiding over a party that has just jettisoned Donald Trump.
Rich Lowry is on Twitter