It’s over.

Media coverage of the Trump administration is like a group of people standing around the bedside of a terminally ill person. Instead of dealing with the fact that the person is soon to depart this earthly coil, they linger on the details of her illness, the early symptoms that remained undiagnosed, the downhill course of her trajectory, the therapies used to prolong her life, the deterioration of her body and the awfulness of it all. That is all well and true but the bottom line is that for the person in the bed, life will soon be over and no amount of picking through her medical history will change that.

Whether it be out of morbid curiosity or driven by ratings boosts linked to the politically macabre, the US media fixates on Trump’s every action. He fuels their addiction to administrative chaos with his inane tweets and moronic statements. Truth be told, the press cannot get enough of it and many a pundit has made his name off of analysing the Trump train wreck. But all this ignores the larger picture, which is that, whether it happen in days, weeks, months or a year, the Trump presidency is finished. Done. Dusted, Kaput. Finis.

The disaster that is his presidency is too obvious to recount in sordid detail here. Suffice it to say that people are being fired or leaving the administration in droves, and many jobs remained unfilled or have been taken by intellectual lightweights. Trump lashes out and reacts impulsively across a range of issues, with suspicions emerging in print that he is addicted to the prescription stimulant Adderol (which is a 25th amendment grounds for removal). He is besieged on several legal fronts, both at the federal as well as state level. Congress is soon to see Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives (which means his legislative agenda is all but finished), and his own Party is not wiling to blindly follow his policy leads. His foreign policy is in tatters, his border wall will not be built and the Mexicans certainly will not pay for it, North Korea still has nukes, his trade war is hurting the states where is electoral base is strongest, the Russians and others laugh at him to his face, his children are in legal jeopardy, and his cabinet has an increasingly feral character to it. Daily scandals, lies and inanities are a constant soundtrack of his presidency. Absorbing all of that, Wall Street, which had been so opportunistically bullish when he entered office (and for which he claims credit), is now moving beyond skittish into full bear territory (for which he blames the Federal Reserve). As New York state prosecutors pointed out with regard to the Trump Foundation, his administration is basically an on-going criminal enterprise rooted in fraud and corruption posing as a government. His lying acolytes are no longer able to keep straight faces when spinning the White House narrative and many of his supporters in high places have simply gone to ground. Even Fox News and rabid rightwing radio personalities are breaking ranks with him. The exact precipitant and method of exit remain unknown, but one thing is clear: He is isolated, incoherent and irrational. He will soon be irrelevant.

That is why the media would be better off ignoring him and focusing on the line of succession and other aspects of institutional continuity. The era of president Mike Pence is at hand, and if it turns out that he played loose with the Russians during the campaign (as is claimed), then he too may be shown the door. That brings the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, into the Oval Office, and if he is unfit to serve, then Nancy Pelosi as the incoming Speaker of the House follows in the line of succession. If Pence is not indicted or otherwise tainted by his association with Russians during the campaign, he is free to choose his own Vice President (subject to Senate confirmation).

It behooves the US political elite to be working with Pence on transition scenarios. Pence is a religious freak and troglodyte on gender and sexual issues, but as a former congressman and governor he knows what it takes to get things done in DC and he is rational in a hyper-conservative way. Although he will likely return to the neoconservative approach to foreign policy and continue to be on the wrong side of history when it comes to guns, reproductive choice and race relations, he will be, after the lunatic steps down, positively easy to deal with. The same goes for Pompeo, who served in Congress before being named CIA director and then Secretary of State.

The institutions themselves need to develop transition plans. Already defence strategists openly worry about Trump going rogue and trying to launch a nuclear strike somewhere as a diversion or as a act of petty revenge on his successors. They point out that he can do so on his own and that there are no formal institutional checks on him (he is only supposed to consult with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defence and National Security Council as well as other cabinet officials, but he is not obliged to do so or to heed their counsel). Even if senior officers refuse his orders to launch a nuclear strike, he can work his way down the nuclear chain of command until he finds a compliant one. There is consequently a move to get Congress to re-write the law governing nuclear weapons use, but in the meantime DoD and the service commands need to consider the very real possibility of having to refuse a presidential order to use the arsenal. There is precedent for this under Nixon (during Watergate) and Reagan (after his Alzheimer’s became apparent), so it is not an unimaginable task.

The same can be said across the federal bureaucracy. Although Pence will not roll back all or most of Trump’s policies (say, on the environment), he will want his own team at the helm of federal agencies and will want to impose his own stamp on the policy-making process. In order for that to happen in an orderly fashion, planning must be done in anticipation of the change-over. It would be best for career public service managers to prepare contingency plans with an eye towards moving out from under Trump’s political appointees, particularly in contentious portfolios like Education and Homeland Security.

The bottom line is that the obsessive focus on Trump obscures the inevitability of his demise and the need to prepare for a change of administration. Because his downfall of itself will not right the ship of state. For that to happen a plan of action must be in place, something that requires congressional and executive branch coordination even if done without the knowledge of the political moribund in the White House.

31 thoughts on “It’s over.

  1. Article 25? Or 25th Amendment?

    The Speaker of the House only becomes President if the incumbent President and VP are gone in the same event, or close enough together the new P (ex VP) doesn’t have time to appoint a new VP (and get him/her confirmed?). But even if Pence turns out to be even deeper in it than Drumpf, the Repugs in the Senate will ensure he has enough time as 46 to appoint someone acceptable to them to become 47, to keep Pelosi out. Remember, Ford was House Minority Leader, not Speaker, before he become VP.Then when Ford became VP he appointed Rockefeller (gov of NY) as his new VP.

    It’s also fascinating considering what kind of calculations Pence must be making. Pardon or no pardon? How soon would Don of the Deadbrains need to hand over the reins to give Pence a shot at fighting the 2020 election to make a resignation and pardon a workable deal? Because surely Pence is aware of what pardoning Nixon did to Ford’s popularity.

  2. Whoa fonzie.
    Last time I looked Trump was democratically elected and will be in place until at least Jan 2021. There are NO serious grounds on which an impeachment might succeed in The senate although I concede it is likely that the clowns in congress will find something to impeach.
    I normally look forward to your finely reasoned analysis. This is just Trump Derangement Syndrome. Taxation Iran China and the hypocritical Paris climate agreeement are all fine policies. On Syria and afghanistan his actions are far more consistent and justifiable than Obama. North Korean engagement was a good try. Speaking originally about bringing Russia in from the cold was also worth trying even if both of those look headed for failure. Hi defence policy looks to be rebuilding American forces for strategic threats.
    You are right it would be great if the media focused on reality than frothing at the mouth. It behooves is all to sweep in front of our own doors first as they say.

  3. Thanks Andre, for the correction on the 25th amendment (fixed now) and clarification about succession. I think you are likely right about the likely succession scenario, although if Mueller drops a bomb on Pence as well as Trump then Pompeo comes into the picture. As for Pence’s calculations, I would not be at all surprised to find out that he is scheming with congressional Republicans as to how to manage the transition. His stone faced persona and silence in recent weeks (remember his frozen posture during Trump’s meeting with Pelosi and Schumer) suggests that his mind is on things other than the deranged ramblings of the fraudster in chief.

  4. Phil:

    The withdrawal from Afghanistan has merit because the situation is pretty much hopeless and it may be time for others to try to stabilize the place. Withdrawal from Syria is more problematic because it leaves the Kurds in the lurch, once again, and gives fresh breath to Daesh. It rewards Russia and Iran in Syria (although I have read that he wants to sucker Iran into a war over its presence in Syria, which apparently is a Bolton wet dream). Apparently Trump decided to order the latter after a phone call from Erdogan. In both instances he made the decision without informing allies and ignored the reasoned arguments of his senior security advisers. So although one can see a case for withdrawal in both instances, his reasons and means of doing so were ill-considered. As for the rest of your remarks, we will just have to once again disagree.

  5. Normally I’d give this analysis some weight but for this:

    Myself and a zillion other pundits got the US election wrong. In fact, pretty much everyone with a Ph.D. in Political Science got it wrong as well as most veteran political journalists.

    But those of us with advanced degrees and years of studying politics ignored it in favour of quasi-scientific methodologies that provided a numbers crunch to our opinions. We saw what we wanted to see rather than what was.

    By contrast you seem to have also lost a lot of confidence in other areas, compared to this other piece from November, 2016:
    When one takes the presidential office the entire weight of US history, good and bad, falls on one’s shoulders. This includes assurances, commitments, guarantees, obligations, promises, responsibilities, rewards and threats made in the past and occupying the present that may be possible to modify but which are hard to summarily rescind or revoke.

    The presidency also inherits the entire edifice of governance–its rules, its mores, its promotion schedules in a bureaucratic architecture that is huge and by design very compartmentalised and specialised in its legally allowable administration of policy.

    The idea that Trump is going to summarily dispense with assorted policies involving trade, security, immigration, domestic energy exploitation, press freedoms, civil rights and the like is wrong because he simply cannot unilaterally do so without challenge.

    But are you so sure you’ve really learned the lessons of the 2016 election? That the political scientist has scientifically uncovered the real factors before making further pronouncements about the fate of Trump?

    As for me, I’d bet on him staying until Jan 20, 2021 – and I would not bet against him winning in 2020 either: “generic” Democrat opponents in 2018 are one thing, but the flesh-and-blood candidate of the day is quite another.

  6. Tom:

    My earlier pronostications notwithstanding, Trump is done. This administration is beyond chaotic and chaos is not anarchy (which has a natural equilibrium based on free choice embedded in it)–it is just disorder. His administration is to governance what a riot is to cafe society. Mueller will deliver hammer blows to his entourage and perhaps himself. Even if the Senate does not vote to impeach, the investigations and potential impeachment proceedings in the House will tie him up in litigation for the last two years of his term. He will accomplish nothing legislatively and will resort to Executive Orders of an increasingly authoritarian and deranged sort.

    In light of that it would be utter folly for senior government managers not to game out transition contingencies.

  7. We will see. Given how wrong the “experts” have been about so many things since his election – let alone the election itself – I’m much less inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt now.

    Given Democrat control of Congress you are correct that his legislative agenda is stuffed for the rest of his term, but I don’t think predicting that takes any great expertise. And it does ignore stuff like the First Steps legislation, which has pissed off some of his right and indicates he could go for some Democrat legislation. The number one example being the idea of a trillion dollar infrastructure bill.

    So Executive Orders it is, as it became for Bush II and Obama. Unfortunately the Senate and House have given so much administrative power to the Presidency over the years, that EO’s may add up to quite a lot of change by the end of 2020.

    Trump certainly does love chaos and fighting. In fact he thrives on it, as numerous obervers have noted, he does not seem worn down at all by all of this. It’s the life he lived in NYC, but on a larger scale. So the Mueller report, which will be more about a report carefully crafted by Mueller, than actual court testimony and rebuttal, will not faze Trump at all, any more than countless legal actions against him did in NYC.

    And here’s the main thing: tens of millions of his voters actually could not care less what happens in D.C. If it burned to the ground they might actually cheer that on. They elected Trump precisely to smash it up because they don’t think it could get any worse for them, something that Clive Crook discussed in early 2016:, as well as this, which sounds oh so familiar…

    When my wife and I bought some land in West Virginia and built a house there, many friends in Washington asked why we would ever do that. Jokes about guns, banjo music, in-breeding, people without teeth and so forth often followed. These Washington friends, in case you were wondering, are good people. They’d be offended by crass, cruel jokes about any other group. They deplore prejudice and keep an eye out for unconscious bias. More than a few object to the term, “illegal immigrant.” Yet somehow they feel the white working class has it coming.

    My neighbors in West Virginia are good people too. Hard to believe, since some work outside and not all have degrees, but trust me on this. They’re aware of how they’re seen by the upper orders. They understand the prevailing view that they’re bigots, too stupid to know what’s good for them, and they see that this contempt is reserved especially for them. The ones I know don’t seem all that angry or bitter — they find it funny more than infuriating — but they sure don’t like being looked down on.

    Many of them are Trump supporters.

    You’ve made other prognostications about how such people will vanish in just one more generation, but they’ll still be there in 2020.

  8. And then there’s this 2016 article from the NYT of all people, who visited a Trump Election office in Tampa Bay and discovered to their shock that the volunteers were not all white skinheads or 45+ unemployed white men desiring to return to the 1950’s – another favourite trope of the US Left, and you of course.

    For a campaign frequently depicted as offering a rallying point for the white working class, the people volunteering to help Mr. Trump here are noteworthy for their ethnic diversity. They include a young woman who recently arrived from Peru; an immigrant from the Philippines; a 70-year-old Lakota Indian; a teenage son of Russian immigrants; a Mexican-American.

    They range the political spectrum, too, from lifelong Democrat to independent to libertarian to conservative Republican.

    But I thought the following was the key quote in looking forward to the 2020 election:

    More than anything, several Trump volunteers here said, the Great Recession exposed a corrupt, out-of-touch ruling class in Washington that allows big corporations to outsource jobs at will while doing nothing to address millions of illegal immigrants who compete for jobs and drain government coffers. In Mr. Trump, they say, they see a potential antidote to all of this. A man too wealthy to be bought or co-opted.

    I’ll leave it to a quote from a conservative blogsite that is none too fond of Mr Trump, but noted that NYT article and said:

    But the real unifying factor that people are overlooking is that lower middle class families and communities, regardless of color or ethnicity or race, are realizing that the political status quo is buggering them left, right, and center. These families and communities realize that people like Williamson think they are a drain on society and should probably just die and be done with it. They have not just lost faith in the answers being offered by anyone they have lost faith that anyone actually cares. They aren’t idiots that believe Trump is going to actually change things, they know he probably won’t, but voting for him is a strike at the people who have created this mess.

    The “Williamson” bit is a reference to National Review writer and Trump hater, who said that there were many such communities that should just realise the world is changing, that they don’t belong, and should die.

    That article also addressed the “whiteness” issue:

    I don’t see that as anything more that the losers in the race-based grievance industry and spoils system that is now firmly welded to federal law deciding they want some of the same treatment. Lower class whites have been selected by Congress and by the courts to be the bill payer for attempting to improve the lot of just about everyone else.

    What possible justification is there in setting a quota that keeps out of a selective university the son of a coal miner or mill worker while making room for the offspring of an minority actor or financier or politician? The grievances are real

    And those grievances are not going away any time soon either.

    It may well be that by 2020 such people will have decided that enough strikes have been delivered, that the system has been beaten up enough. They may even meet a Democrat candidate and party that does not look down on them – at least not in public.

    And who knows, all the things listed may have changed for the better.

  9. Williamson of National Review comes across as one of many IGMFY’ers who really do think that “there is no alternative” to Reaganomics-on-steroids which got thrown into disarray by the Great Recession, in the same way the Bretton Woods consensus got knocked out by the Oil Crises and the costs of the Vietnam War. And a lot of “burn it all down at any cost” voters would also have swung behind Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein. Still more would have simply given up hope and decided no one was worth voting for, or blocked from voting on the flimsiest pretexts.

    Countless political scientists have argued whether Brexit & Trump were an economic anxiety revolt, a cultural nationalist revolt, or a bit of both. I’d wager it’s both, with the underlying causes being at least a generation in the making.

  10. Last time I checked the Speaker of the House, then the President pro tempore of the Senate came before the Secretary of State in the succession.

    I don’t think it is possible that Senate Republicans would convict Trump in an impeachment and I don’t see any other way to get Trump out of office before his term runs out.

  11. James:

    I will double check on the succession sequence but the larger point is that someone should be preparing for it.

    As for impeachment. It continues to amaze me that people do not understand that the impeachment PROCESS starts with the House, which acts as prosecutor, then is turned over to the Senate as judge and jury. Of course the Senate will not get 60+ votes to convict while the GOP has its majority (unless a charge of treason or some other heinous Mueller finding makes it expedient to do so) but that is not the point. The process from start to end will be drawn out and will absorb all of Trump’s attention to the detriment (or benefit) of everything else, especially if he obsesses on it like he does the Mueller investigation. That of itself is a political weapon that the Dems can use, and it increasingly looks like they will. Just think of the last two years of the Clinton presidency and you will get the idea. To the point: nothing got done (but in Clinton’s case he was two term gone anyway so it had no electoral consequence other than for Al Gore).

  12. I know that, I did say convict for the Senate.

    Trump has hardly achieved anything legislatively speaking so dropping that to zero with the Dems controlling the House is not that big of a change in my opinion.

  13. James:

    He got his tax bill and SCOTUS nominations through thanks to those GOP congressional majorities. The rubbish talk about a wall was enabled by the GOP majorities, but that is about to change. The key point is that everything, legislative-wise, has to go through the House first and that means that if he continues to act in the way he has–bullying rather than negotiating towards mutually acceptable compromises–then his legislative agenda is DOA. And if that happens, so too will be his chances at re-election (although I believe that he will be long gone before then).

  14. Judicial nominations have nothing to do with the House to my knowledge. The tax bill was the *only* substantial bill to make it through Congress as far as I can recall.

    I too, think Trump has no chance at re-election. 67 votes are needed for an Impeachment conviction by the way. Andrew Johnson hung on by one vote, only facing a 66% hostile Senate. It is remarkably hard to force a President out of office early, Nixon is the only one.

  15. James:

    I am well aware of how Congress works and mentioned the SCOTUS appointments as a reference to the GOP majority enabling him, not to any bill passing (since the appointments passed on strict party votes with simple majorities thanks to McConnell’s rules-bending. Not even an attempt at bipartisan compromise in either instance). I also know how impeachment works, as mentioned earlier. Given that, I am not sure what your point is since you agree that Trump stands no chance of re-election. To repeat: The Dems do not need to have the 67 Senate votes to impeach him in order to hamstring and paralyze him. That and the Mueller findings and incidental investigations will seal his fate and may even induce some Republicans to side against him once it is clear that he is terminally crippled (as a blood in water/shark sort of thing).

  16. You spent a lot of time talking about a President Pence, I was raising some points as to why that might not happen. If I was a betting man I’d bet that Trump will see out his term (albeit I wouldn’t bet much).

  17. When mueller decides he has enough incriminating evidence what does he do?

    OK. The boss is a money laundering in thrall to Putin (and others). The US Constition has several practical problems.

    Who does Mueller report to? Democrats, Republicans, Pince?

  18. Mueller has several options when it comes to courses of action. He has three grand juries empanelled that have already indicted people like Manafort and Flynn, both of whom subsequently pleaded guilty (as did several others). The grand juries look at financial crimes, counter-intelligence (specifically Russian connections and influence on the Trump campaign) and criminal conspiracies to defraud the US govt, respectively. All of these investigations are ongoing and any one of them can (and likely will) reach into the West Wing sooner or later. Mueller also has to periodically report to Congress on the status of his investigation, which is open-ended. The word is that he will do so in Feb once the new Congress is seated. His report will then be used by Congress to launch their own investigations using their subpoena powers. Those powers are extensive and wide-ranging and witnesses testify under oath at peril of contempt of congress, so the stakes will be high for those who get summoned. And given that the Dems are soon to be running the show in the House, I would hazard the guess that it is pucker time for the Trump sons, his daughter and his son-in-law. The question is: who will be the weak link and cave in order to negotiate a deal incriminating the others in exchange for immunity from prosecution or leniency in sentencing?

  19. Sadly, I doubt Trump will be removed prior to 2020 but the idea there’s no grounds on which to do so is laughable. In fact it’s worse than laughable it’s grotesque. The only ‘Trump derangement syndrome’ is those who’ve convinced themselves this is any kind of normal.
    Also, all the talk of ‘learning from 2016’ has to be kept separate from the fact that Trump is unfit for office, clearly doesn’t believe in the constitution he’s been elected to defend, and performed actions that warrant his removal from office.
    It disturbs me that so many are willing to ignore that on the basis they got his election wrong.

  20. “The evil is in the White House at the present time.”

    Bonus points for quick DuckDuckGO searches. :)

  21. It would be nice to see Hillary Clinton as his opposition candidate in 2020,>> oh wait that’s right,the Clintons will be in jail with any luck beside Mueller and co.

  22. Thanx for the info on the Mueller Congress relationship.

    It will be very very interesting times for Republicans, rustbelters, and bible bashers.
    I have some empathy for the latter two. (Extremely little for one of them.)
    I am buying popcorn to watch the Republicans.

  23. Hey Paul,

    It has been a while since you last visited. Did your welcome in Thailand wear out or are you still trolling from afar?

  24. Festive Greeting Paul!

    I agree with you about Trump’s media coverage. I used to read articles from a site called but no longer because it was so anti Trump on everything it became boring.

    Trump has not helped himself by using Twitter as his means of communication. Surely the most powerful man on the planet has more dignity than that!

    As for Trump’s time is over… I am not convinced… yet!
    I will wait for articles on The Saker, Russia Insider or The Unz review before committing to showing trump the door

  25. Un abrazo, Eduardo.

    Rest assured: Drumpf is done. It is just a matter of when the shoe will fall.

  26. Working overseas these past five years I meet working Americans; usually reasonably well educated, definitely working men. They all recognise Trump as a god-awful lout, they all understand he’s the very antithesis of a ‘good’ President.

    But they voted for him exactly because of this; that both major Parties no longer represen their interests and both are spinning off into forms of extremism they cannot abide. In the polarising wreckage that is US politics, the clown-suit walzed on stage while the lead players were brawling in the orchestra pit.

    This is why all the pundits keep getting Trump wrong; because they cannot bring themselves to admit the part they played, and continue to play, in the jokester’s mad prance before them.

  27. RedLogix:

    This is not about pundits getting things wrong. This is about the very serious legal problems that are closing in on Trump and his minions, about the turmoil surrounding his staff, about his incoherent, impulsive and often nasty policies and about his inability to comprehend basic constitutional issues (so much for that elite Ivy League education). You are right that the media continues to fixate on day to day scandals etc and not on the bigger picture (which is why I wrote the post).

    I disagree that the Dems have split into “forms of extremism.” What has happened is that a genuinely social democratic wing has begun to form against the old Clinton/corporate clique that dominated the party for the last twenty five years. When he started campaigning Bernie Sanders was branded as a commie but now many of his policy proposals are being pushed by the new Blue wave types. This is important because a move to the Left (such as it is in the US) can pull support away from Trump and his populist appeals on things like healthcare and education reform. As for the GOP, I have said this for a while and may still be proven wrong, but I believe that Trump will kill it off in its present form. I am not sure how it will fracture and what will emerge from the wreckage, but sticking with Trump for opportunistic reasons (such as getting the SCOTUS appointments and rolling back environmental regulations) has now proven to be short-sighted and politically damaging to the party as a whole. Part of that short-sighted opportunism is due to the take-over of the party by extremists such as the Tea Party/Freedom caucus lunatics. Unless GOP centrists regain control of the party they could well get hammered again in 2020. My main concern is whether the Dems will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by putting up another Clintonite/corporate lackey (or Clinton herself, the goddess forbid). They need to find someone who is fresh and knows the ropes, and so far I have seen little in the way of that combination (the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Corey Booker just do not cut it as viable presidential candidates, IMO).

  28. ( I say ) there is still hope in 2020 for the democrats
    with a ticket of Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders

  29. I recall, obviously a while back, but this century, reading a comment that the defence/intelligence community in the Nixon years were concerned enough to give him a phony red button nuclear striker.

    I cannot verify it, but ,hopefully, if true this has already happened.

  30. USA desperately needs an mmp system like ours. Ours need improving ( threshold limits too high, set by ffp politicians).

    The college gerrymander needs to be abandoned.

    Corporate bankrolling needs to be abolished /or be transparent.

    This is not going to happen in my life time.

    If it wver happens america might be great again.

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