Will this time be different? Has Trump finally crossed a line that’s the beginning of the unraveling of his presidency?
Last week he threatened nuclear war with North Korea. This week he doubled down on defending white supremacists even as his allies, corporate executives and military and intelligence chiefs, backed away.
Trump keeps spinning out. After a few cities removed monuments of Confederate Civil War heroes, he tweeted Thursday, “The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
The idea of replacing Trump is now edging back into the public’s mind. The Washington Post’s famed 1970s Watergate scandal reporter, Carl Bernstein, is urging the press to dig into sentiment for replacing Trump inside the GOP.
Petitions are circulating. A national PRRI poll released Thursday found 40 percent favor impeaching Trump. That’s 72 percent of Democrats, compared to 58 percent six months ago, and 38 percent of independents, compared to 27 percent in February. Only 7 percent of Republicans, however, want to see him ousted, a figure holding firm from February.
With Congress firmly in GOP hands, the question becomes when would the House, which initiates the impeachment process, realize that it’s in the GOP’s benefit to do so. Of course, Trump could step down, as unlikely as that sounds. All of this is uncharted territory. But the latest Trump chaos is on par with last fall’s grabbing-pussy boasts that at the time prompted some Republicans to consider their options for replacing candidate Trump.
All of these machinations lead to taking a closer look at Vice President Mike Pence, who would become history’s latest accidental president—even if he, too, is under the cloud of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian collusion in the campaign. (In January, Pence told CBS News the campaign had no contacts with Russia, a claim that has been disproven.)
What would Pence bring to the presidency that’s not already in Trump’s White House, besides self-control and a lack of drama, threats of nuclear war and overt embraces of neo-Nazis and slavery-defenders? The answer appears to be even more doctrinaire right-wing positions than those taken by Trump. Pence would shepherd the agenda repeatedly rubber-stamped by the House and Senate GOP and vetoed by President Obama. As FiveThirtyEight.com noted after his selection, he’s the most far-right veep nominee in 40 years.
Pence was a smooth-talking radio host before being elected to the House, where he served in the leadership with current Speaker Paul Ryan. He was elected Indiana governor in 2012, but his backing of a “religious freedom” bill allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals caused such an economic backlash that his career seemed over until Trump rescued him.
Virtually all of his policy positions are in sync with the GOP’s draconian 2016 platform, adopted at the convention soon after he introduced himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” While it might be a relief for virtually everyone left of the political center should Trump be fired, Pence actually knows how Washington works and could deeply damage government and many public policies.
A quick survey of Pence’s stances is revealing—beyond his habit of never meeting alone with a woman other than his wife because he believes such interactions are implicitly sexual. As the Washington Post put it, “There’s little distance between that perspective and that of the ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to sit next to a woman on an airplane, or the fundamentalist Muslims who demand that women be covered head to toe to contain the unstoppable sexual allure that renders men unable to control their urges.”
Here are snapshots from a biography of his career: After he was elected to the House in 2000, he opposed President George W. Bush’s expansion of Medicare prescription drug benefits. During his 12 years in Congress, he introduced 90 bills and resolutions. None became law. He opposed Obama's Affordable Care Act, needless to say.
After becoming governor in 2013, he faced a state fiscal crisis. He cut tens of millions from the budget for higher education, social agencies and human services. Although Indiana’s economy had the nation’s worst job growth, he signed bills blocking local governments from raising the minimum wage or requiring businesses to offer better benefits. He pushed cutting income and business taxes, but would not sign laws reversing other regressive taxes.
Pence was a big booster of privatizing government services, whether new highways or traditional public schools. He repeatedly acted to boost charter schools and vouchers and undermine the teachers’ unions, including making the state Board of Education an arm of the executive branch. From there, he clashed with educators over treatment of transgender students.
On energy and the environment, he rolled back energy efficiency standards, denounced and fought with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and declared Indiana was a pro-coal state. On guns, he signed a bill to let people keep guns in their cars parked on school grounds, recruited the NRA to train the Indiana National Guard and pre-empted the city of Gary from suing gun manufacturers whose weapons were sold illegally.
On health, he and the state GOP defunded Planned Parenthood, even with southern Indiana experiencing an HIV epidemic. He opposed needle exchanges for drug addiction treatment. While he did accept Obamacare funds to expand state-run Medicaid, he added bigger co-payments for recipients.
Pence received national attention after signing a so-called religious freedom bill in 2015, prompting some big state employers—notably Angie’s List—to cancel a state-based expansion in Indianapolis, costing the state 1,000 jobs. The backlash forced him to rescind parts of the law. On women’s health and reproductive rights, Pence has been a fundamentalist, signing into law a bill banning abortion procedures and penalizing providers. A federal court overruled the law, saying it was unconstitutional.
Pence also tried to create a state-run news service, to circumvent local media. He’s repeatedly stonewalled reporters seeking public documents. He is known for using private emails to conduct official business—the same thing he criticized Hillary Clinton for. And he tried but failed to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in the state. A court stopped him.
In the fall 2016 campaign, Pence said his role model for the vice presidency, if elected, would be Dick Cheney, George W. Bush’s powerful surrogate.
“I frankly hold Dick Cheney in really high regard in his role as vice president and as an American,” he told ABC-TV. “Vice President Cheney had experience in Congress as I do, and he was very active in working with members of the House and the Senate.”
While tens of millions of Americans want the nightmare of Trump to end, a different right-wing takeover looms should Pence inherit the Oval Office. One can ask, as Carl Bernstein has, whether Republicans and careerists in military and intelligence circles have completely lost faith in Trump. It’s anybody’s guess when congressional Republicans will decide whether they would be better off with a President Pence—notwithstanding Mueller’s probe.
The country's last accidental president was Gerald Ford, who took office after Richard Nixon resigned, and wasn’t re-elected in 1976 after issuing a full pardon for Nixon two years before. Ford did not get much done in his time in office. But the mid-1970s was another era.
Should Pence inherit the job, and should the GOP maintain its control in Congress, the far right could have even more power than it does today. The sociopath-in-chief might be gone. But other dangers lurk around the Republican Party’s fringes.