As predicted by many in the days following the Nov. 8 election, the qualities that made Donald Trump a meteoric candidate—mercurial, braggadocios, unpredictable—will not produce a stable American government. Though Trump has yet to take the oath of office, his Twitter diplomacy has already begun to unhinge global geopolitics. With mounting ethics violations, a vocal war with the intelligence community and documented violations of basic decency, an impeachable offense seems inevitable. As their dark horse goes further off the rails, the GOP may end up vying for Trump’s downfall, looking to Vice President-elect Mike Pence for some sort of salvation.
Members of the Republican Establishment were undoubtedly caught off guard, like their Democratic counterparts, by Trump’s swift transition from punchline to president. We are entering a phase in which one of two major American parties—albeit the party with majorities or pending majorities in all three branches of government—has no sense of stability. While Democrats are directionless, Republicans have a leader with the intelligence, patience and navigational expertise of a headless chicken in a hurricane. Establishment members of the GOP will likely look to members of Trump’s cabinet as well as his Vice President Mike Pence for something resembling conservative strategy.
Past presidents have relied on advisors and aides to varying degrees. President George W. Bush spoke openly about his reliance on advisors and his Vice President, Dick Cheney, who is widely considered one of the most powerful VPs in American history. Shifting power and authority to Vice President Pence would require an even greater self awareness and recognition of substantial personal limitations. However, where President Bush had a humble demeanor and a clear sense of duty, Trump has no clear vein of humility.
As the President-elect showed in his first press conference since July, on Jan. 11, he has no patience for criticism or questioning. One would hope the weight of office on Jan. 20 (and after) would alter that thinking. However, there has been no evidence to suggest that Trump will shift from his campaign rhetoric or persona. If ‘campaign Trump’ was a theatrical ruse, then the new president might be in need of an exorcism, because that bigoted and brash personality has worsened since Nov. 8.
While Democrats scramble to find a new leader and devise a plan of attack for the Trump Administration, Republicans should be seeking plans C-through-Z. Pence’s ability to control and govern for Trump is threatened by the President-elect’s continual beating of his chest and inability to back down from even the most obvious gaffe. His constant use of social media has already damaged the office and made the United States resemble little more than a last-minute skit on Saturday Night Live.
If Donald Trump does not follow ethics guidelines or continues to insist that the President and VP are above conflict of interest laws, then it is likely that he will commit an impeachable offense. Further, after having deemed the American intelligence community as relying on tactics inspired by Nazi Germany, the likelihood for leaks of damning evidence of wayward activities has never been higher. He has attacked both the press and the intelligence community—groups possessing the power, capability and motive to make the Watergate leaks look like amateur theatre. While fabrication or reliance on unsubstantiated reports would undermine American democracy, the incentive now exists to investigate with unforgiving focus. It is now a waiting game.
Whereas President Richard Nixon had extraordinary intellect and a fatal-paranoia, Trump has little intelligence, a shrinking list of allies and the transparency of the Internet Age. If those in power are faced with evidence of corruption, ethics violations or other illegal activities committed by Trump and his cronies, inaction would cement the GOP definition of ‘Respect’ as acquiescence.
At this point, members of the GOP should begin to understand that their position in power is jeopardized—not strengthened—by Donald Trump. If they hope to salvage their party for future generations, they must remember that Trump is essentially a third-party president, and behave as such as Trump’s transgressions come to light.