POST TIME: 22 June, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Voters will judge Trump on the economy
Gavin Esler

Voters will judge Trump on the economy

For those unimpressed by the US president, here is tomorrow’s news: Donald Trump will remain in the White House for quite a while. How do I know this? Because no US president in history has ever been removed from office by impeachment. Never, ever. The supposed impeachment “case” against Mr Trump grabs headlines, encourages his enemies and journalistic wittering but faces insurmountable problems. Critics cite a stack of probable “high crimes and misdemeanours” – impeachable offences.

The Mueller investigation is picking off former Trump aides and associates to build a case around those prepared to save their own skins by cooperating with the FBI. Robert Mueller – and others – are examining in detail the business dealings of the Trump family, including the president. And politically Mr Trump risks becoming a Lilliputian president – or as Richard Nixon memorably called the US in 1970, a “pitiful helpless giant” – tied down by inquiries and unable to do much beyond tweeting his frustration and attacking what he claims is a conspiracy against him.

That might all be very entertaining (or depressing to those of us who value American leadership) but none of this amounts, at least so far, to a credible impeachment resulting in his removal from office.

The reason is simple. Impeachment sounds like a high-minded legal and constitutional process. It’s not. It’s bloody-minded, raw politics. It appears to be about right and wrong. It’s not. It’s about numbers and votes.

I chaired a discussion with US scholars last week in London’s British Library on precisely this topic. Presidents endure scandals but mostly survive them, often because they have plenty of practice.

There are three main categories: sex scandals, financial corruption scandals and constitutional disagreements about power. The sex scandals sell newspapers but as Bill Clinton, Grover Cleveland and others have proven, they do not bring down presidents.

Besides, Mr Trump’s sexual proclivities were well-known to voters before they elected him to the White House. The corruption allegations (dodgy dealings with Russians, paying off Stormy Daniels and other money matters) might eventually produce a conviction and taint the presidency but Trump supporters tend to believe that their hero is “too rich to be bought” and will almost certainly stick with him regardless of the outcome of investigations.

Besides, Trump voters regard dubious agreements and transactions as the normal business of Washington and at times, the normal business of business. That leaves impeachment caused by some kind of constitutional malfeasance.

 Trump recently tweeted that he has the absolute right to pardon himself, an assertion which many US scholars believe could be seen as an abuse of power and lead to impeachment under article II, section 2 of the US constitution. It confers pardon authority on the president and the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the US, except in cases of impeachment”.

But while some politicians need friends, Trump needs enemies. He appears to be taking his cue on surviving enemy attacks by using Clinton's method of taking his case over the heads of Congress and straight to the American people.

Mr Clinton lied under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky and was impeached in the House of Representatives but crucially, his Republican critics did not have the votes in the Senate to remove him. He survived by bypassing Congress and the media and appealing directly to Americans.

The writer is a journalist, author and television presenter