Democrats and some concerned Republicans have been warning for months that firing special counsel Robert Mueller would be a point of no return for President Donald Trump. That speculative frontier advanced even further over the weekend, after the New Yorker’s Adam Davidson declared that the Trump presidency has now entered its “end stages,” following a raid on the office and hotel room of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen. What these predictions rather conspicuously lack is any attempt to explain precisely the series of events that would be Trump’s formal undoing.
In the case of Mueller’s firing, Democrats, in typical Democratic Party fashion, have coalesced behind a talking point first used by a Republican in which they find some powerful, unifying value. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has been saying all along that such a move would mark “the beginning of the end” of Trump’s presidency. When I asked Democratic senators last week whether firing Mueller would be an impeachable offense, they declined to answer, echoing Graham’s warning about the “beginning of the end” of Trump’s presidency.
Democrats say this because they don’t believe that raising the specter of impeachment is politically wise, especially when they’re in no position to make good on such a threat. Democrats don’t control either chamber of Congress, and they’re not at all sure that firing Mueller would plummet Trump’s support among Republican voters and convince GOP congressmen to help impeach him. In other words, they have no idea whether firing Mueller would mark “the beginning of the end” of Trump’s presidency. It could just kick his approval rating into the lower 30s until a few news cycles pass, after which the Trump presidency returns to being generally unpopular but potentially survivable.
But forget about Mueller. The new rage is the investigation into Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, whose office and hotel room agents from the Southern District of New York raided last week. With the investigation—both investigations? All investigations?—now turning toward Trump’s business and personal dealings, the public will see a fuller presentation of the Trump Organization’s crookedness and shabby infrastructure.
Once “the full details” of Trump’s “shadiness” are “better known and digested,” Davidson argued in his New Yorker piece, “a fundamentally different narrative about Trump will become commonplace” among his supporters. The crown jewels are all within the files seized from Cohen, and “[i]t seems inevitable that much will be made public.”
“We don’t know when,” Davidson concludes. “We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.”
Just like that, the speculation went from the “beginning of the end,” based on a hypothetical Mueller-firing scenario, to the straight-up “end stages.” The predicted demise advances even from the beginning of the article—when Davidson merely posits that we’re “entering” the last phase of Trump’s presidency—to hundreds of words later, when “[w]e are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.”
It would be much easier to believe that any of these concrete acts will mark the “beginning of the end,” the “entering [of] the last phase,” or the “end stages” of Trump’s presidency if these terms could be properly defined and the mechanics of such an end could be explained and supported with compelling evidence. But they can’t, because no one has any idea.
No one knows whether Trump firing Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or revelations from the Russia probe or the investigation of Michael Cohen, will hasten a previously unscheduled closure to Trump’s presidency. Davidson doesn’t argue that by “end stages” he means impeachment, or resignation in the face of certain impeachment, because that would require him to commit to something he’s not sure of.
But if we’re now in the “end stages,” at Month 16 of Trump’s 48-month term, then impeachment and conviction, or some manner of forced resignation, would seem to be the only source of this impending demise. For any of those things to happen, the continuation of Trump’s presidency would have to become an irreparable political liability for rank-and-file Republicans—meaning, his approval ratings among Republicans would have to fall underwater. In the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is 81 percent. Would a full telling of all of the Trump Organization’s misdeeds and associations over the years, or images of Don Jr. and/or Jared Kushner in handcuffs, be enough to flip the narrative among Republican voters?
The more generous interpretation of “end stages,” or the “beginning of the end,” is a situation in which the remainder of Trump’s four years is so loaded with baggage, legal and otherwise, that nothing gets done and voters choose not to re-elect him. Maybe?
Davidson rejects the assessment that “any new information about [Trump’s] corrupt past has no political salience” or that “[t]hose who hate Trump already think he’s a crook; those who love him don’t care.” It is a reasonable point: Just because something hasn’t done the trick doesn’t mean that it will never happen. But there’s no reason to predict that it will happen that way.
It seems almost equally likely that more dirt about Trump’s business comes out, more confidants go to jail, the economy stays fine, Trump continues yelling at NFL players for kneeling prior to football games, and he wins a second term. Expansive proof of decades of criminality could be the thing that flips Trump supporters. Or Trump supporters would continue to support him, because they like him, which is why they’re Trump supporters, and they know how much a second Trump term would trigger the libs.
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary, and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.Join Slate Plus