Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author with Peter Eisner of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The impeachment of Donald Trump is now an inevitability thanks, not to Congress, but to his own character and personality which drove him to seek foreign help in the 2020 election. When the House declares him worthy of removal from office, however, the very flaws that got Trump to this point – the absence of humility, lack of integrity and his self-absorption – will keep him on a destructive path.
The President will not be chastened by the awful stain applied to his name. He will, instead, spin up the cruelty and chaos, deepen the division between Americans and stoke fear in all.
Extreme defiance is the hallmark Trumpian method. Whatever others find appalling in his behavior he defends and then does some more.
This tendency explains why, after he got in trouble for begging Russia to intervene in the 2016 election, which he says was in “jest,” he allegedly did it again in anticipation of 2020. This time he pressured Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations into his Democratic rival Joe Biden and the debunked conspiracy theory holding that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
When caught in the act, Trump didn’t back away but rather said that Ukraine and China should both investigate the Bidens. In this way, he’s like a child caught breaking a window with a rock who immediately breaks another to show that he’s supposed to be shattering all that glass. You can’t reason with the boy who has knowingly committed an offense when he does it again, right in front of you, and says it is the right thing to do.
The Washington Post’s count of Trump’s distortions and untruths, which now exceeds 13,000, could well surpass 20,000 before election day. In the wake of impeachment, he’ll likely devote new energy to his reflexive smears. And in his search for targets, no one will be off limits, as his recent attack on teenage activist Greta Thunberg shows.
Like his character, Trump’s personality will not change as a result of impeachment. The dark charisma, which he displays so vividly at his rallies, is his superpower. It thrills rank-and-file Trump voters who listen intently for the signals that cue their chanting and cheers. By the time of the next election, Trump will paint his opponent as the devil at the risk of inspiring the far-right fringe.
Trump’s other go-to technique involves using threats and inducements to bring others under his control. His bullying of his fellow Republicans has made so many GOP officials spineless that he rarely hears a correcting word from within the party. When Richard Nixon faced impeachment, he had to deal with Republican senators like Barry Goldwater, who spoke truth to power and told him he’d be removed.
Trump, by contrast, has the full support of former opponents like Lindsey Graham, who has said he is “not trying to pretend to be a fair juror,” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has pledged that he will work in lockstep with the White House and that “there’s no chance the President is going to be removed from office.”
Senate Republicans have pinned their fortunes to Trumpism and he will make them demonstrate their loyalty with outrageous acts, which they will have to endorse. They have assured the wayward Trump that he can stay in office, and thus have given him permission to keep on vandalizing our democracy.
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Trump may wait out the Senate proceedings, in order to avoid provoking a Republican or two to vote against him, but the humiliation of becoming just the third president ever to be impeached will inspire him to plan a string of awful stunts. He’ll likely continue to deploy nasty nicknames and to exploit divisive issues – abortion, racial justice, climate change, election security – to destructive effect all the way to November 2020.
The impeached-but-not-removed President Trump, who has long called any investigation into his actions a witch hunt, will not accept any responsibility for the crisis he created. He has said that the call he made to allegedly twist Zelensky’s arm was “perfect” and this is the claim he will repeat over and over again.
Perfection is, in Trump’s mind, his perpetual state. He will see no reason to spare anyone, least of all the nation, from his wrath.