With the House now headed down a path that virtually guarantees President Donald Trump will be impeached, conventional wisdom has settled on the idea that the Republican-led Senate will never, ever remove him from office.
Which, I get! If you were a betting person – which I am not! – the strong likelihood is that the Senate acquits Trump. Because, well, math. There are 53 Republicans in the chamber currently and 47 Democrats and independents who caucus with Democrats. In order to remove Trump from office, 67 senators would have to vote to do so – meaning you would need every Democrat and a 20-person Republican revolt.
Which is not likely!
But if the Trump presidency – and the way in which he became president – teaches us anything, it should be this: Never assume. Anything.
Politics, especially in this age of social media and of our first reality TV President both a) moves fast and b) is massively unpredictable. Fast forward to two weeks ago – pre-whistleblower. Would you have put any amount of money on the idea that House Democrats would formally open an impeachment inquiry?
Of course you wouldn’t! No one would! And yet, here we are.
It’s not just that we live in unpredictable times, however. It’s that Republicans are in danger of losing their Senate majority next November that could lead to some unforeseen developments when it comes to how the world’s greatest deliberative body handles an impeachment case.
Consider these numbers: 23 Republicans are up for reelection next November as compared to just 12 Democrats. If Democrats can net three seats and win the White House (or four seats if Trump gets reelected), they retake control of the Senate.
Of those 23 Republicans, only two – Maine’s Susan Collins and Colorado’s Cory Gardner – hold seats where Hillary Clinton won in 2016. But a slew of other potentially vulnerable Republicans sit in states where Trump won by single digits. That includes:
* Arizona’s Martha McSally (Trump +3 in 2016)
* Georgia’s David Perdue (Trump +5)
* Georgia open seat (Trump +5)
* Iowa’s Joni Ernst (Trump +9)
* John Cornyn (Trump +9)
Now, in normal political circumstances, Cornyn likely doesn’t have all that much to worry about. But we are not in normal political circumstances!
Which, of course, doesn’t mean that Cornyn or Ernst or either of the Georgia seats is under immediate peril. What it does mean, however, is that those senators – in addition to Gardner and Collins – are going to be very, very aware of any even slight changes in the political environment toward impeachment.
And we have already seen – in the CNN poll released Monday and a slew of others – that the public has grown more supportive of impeaching Trump since the Ukraine whistleblower story broke. As CNN’s Harry Enten wrote of the poll:
“The yearning for impeachment and removing Trump from office has risen significantly among moderate and liberal potential Republicans (i.e. Republicans and Republican leaning independents). Nearly a third of moderate/liberal potential Republicans in our latest CNN poll said they wanted Trump impeached and removed last week, while about two-thirds didn’t want that. Back in late May, the split was 16% for impeachment and removal and 81% against it. This is statistically significant movement.”
Obviously, we are in the early days of the impeachment story – and what might eventually come of it, politically speaking. But that trend line is not something that the likes of Perdue or Ernst or McSally can or will ignore.
All of which is to say that it is possible that if this impeachment inquiry starts to look worse and worse for Trump, then it’s not at all unreasonable that these most endangered of incumbents could break away in an attempt to save their own political careers. (To be clear: I’m not sure that would work, since they would still be in the same party as Trump.)
But if, say five-ish Republican senators – led by Collins and Gardner – did indicate they would vote to remove Trump from office, what’s to say that the pragmatic elements of the party – Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Marco Rubio (Florida), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Mitt Romney (Utah) etc. – wouldn’t sense Trump’s weakness and jump at the chance to get him out? (Notice that there are lots – and lots – of Republican senators who have studiously avoided saying anything at all about Trump or Ukraine so far.)
The question then becomes, what is the tipping point at which all but the most loyal Trump allies in the Senate (or those in states where Trump remains beloved) are willing to come out against him? That tipping point may be hard to imagine right now – especially given that congressional Republicans have kowtowed to Trump at every turn over these first three years in office – but there is always a tipping point in politics, a moment past which the impossible seems inevitable.
Again – and I can’t say this strongly enough – we are not there yet. And if past is prologue with Republicans’ blind allegiance to Trump, we may never get there. Notice the use of the word “may” though in that last sentence. No one should say we won’t get there. Because, the real truth is, no one can know that.