What if the Senate impeachment trial results in conviction?

January 24, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 24, 2019 2020

I’d originally planned to post a review of Ted Chiang’s outstanding recent anthology Exhalation this week, but life got in the way.

There was the big January charity Scrabble tournament, which took up most of Saturday and Sunday and about half of Monday. Then, of course, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began, and I found myself concentrating on National Public Radio’s audio feed from the Senate floor. (I was also, to be honest, playing word games as I listened.)

At any rate, there have been a few distractions from writing. However, I here present a few musings prompted by the impeachment trial.

First and foremost, it’s almost impossible to believe that the proceedings will lead to Trump’s removal. The Constitution dictates that two-thirds of Congress’s upper chamber must support conviction on an impeachment charge. The Democratic caucus has 47 members; the remaining 53 senators, of course, are Republicans. It’s hard to envision more than two or three senators breaking from the conservative party, let alone 20 of them defecting.

But let’s entertain for a moment the notion that enough members of the Senate just might — might! — listen to the copious evidence and legal arguments presented by the House of Representatives impeachment managers. Let’s say that 67 senators vote for Trump’s conviction on one or both of the charges, which would result in his automatic removal from the presidency. What might that look like?

Trump, the fearless public speaker and Twitter warrior, could put up a fight. The tweets could come flying from Trump’s (likely insecure) smart phone at a record pace. One can speculate about a congressional sergeant at arms confronting Secret Service agents who may be unprepared and unwilling either to remove the president from the White House or see others dislodge him.

I suspect, however, that Trump — who’s never shown much inclination to risk his own life and limb — would go quietly when push came to shove. Yes, Very Stable Genius! would yell and whine to Ivanka and Jared and his staffers, bemoaning the unfairness of the whole thing was, but even Trump knows when he’s beaten.

I suspect there would be a period of a few days, or maybe even a few months, in which Trump kept a low profile as Mike Pence assumed the reins of power. Reporters would track his movements from Trump Tower to Mar-a-Lago to other Trump properties, but he wouldn’t publicly utter more than a few scattered words in response to shouted press queries.

After that? Well, Trump would be a right-wing martyr, felled by what followers would see as rabid liberal fanaticism. He’d be a coveted interview for any number of publications. And he’d eventually start blasting Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler and all the other Democrats that Trump would blame for his impeachment. The public would eat it up; those on the right would revel in seeing their fallen champion get back in the fight, while those on the left would savor the mewling of the vanquished autocrat.

Maybe the Trumps would do what they do best: Stage a media comeback, parceling out appearances by family members over the course of two carefully choreographed weeks. They could begin with short, sober interviews with the former First Daughter and the supreme son-in-law in, say, People. Then we’d get a fiery “Fox & Friends” appearance from Eric Trump, and a tearful Q-and-A with ousted First Lady Melania on, oh, “Entertainment Tonight.” That would be followed by a defiant Donald Junior spot, perhaps on “The Ingraham Angle,” setting the stage for the climactic unveiling of the great man himself with an exclusive appearance on “Hannity.”

That will be just the start of the Trump resurgence. Having become a Republican kingmaker, the New York dealmaker won’t want to relinquish his role. He’ll appear at a series of rallies, giving increasingly unhinged speeches and TV interviews as the 2020 campaign season comes to a head.

Further down the road, the books will start coming. The most anticipated volume, naturally, will be the former president’s score-settling account, but of course Melania and Eric and Donald Junior (again) and other relatives and cronies will publish screeds. With a little hustle, the first of these can arrive in time for the Christmas shopping season!

And that will be just the start. Trump will either launch or lend his imprimatur to some kind of fledgling media empire. Administration members and hangers-on will receive sinecures that allow them to dole out whatever nonsense they want to the Trump-loving masses, as long as they include the requisite amount of liberal bashing.

Perhaps Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin can pair with Mike Cernovich for a morning show, with pardoned war criminals Eddie Gallagher and Clint Lorance holding down the 6 p.m. slot. Dr. Ben Carson, the Housing and Urban Development secretary, can cohost an interior decorating show with his wife Candy at midnight for incurable insomniacs. It’ll be Fox News on steroids, with even less fealty to facts.

The aftermath of an abbreviated Trump presidency will, in short, be an ongoing nightmare — albeit one in which the self-proclaimed Very Stable Genius has markedly less ability to roll back environmental protections, order troop movements or arrange high-visibility meet-and-greets with autocrats. We should take such consolations where we can get them, because the truth is that whatever happens in the Senate impeachment trial, we won’t be rid of Trump.

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