Will Trump last the term?

Donald Trump has faced a torrent of criticism since his surprise election victory last November, but could he be forced out early? Matt Howlett explains how this could work out.

Foreign Affairs

Matt Howlett __________________________________________________________________

Donald Trump may have won the presidency, but will the plethora of allegations come back to haunt him? Photo: Wikipedia

Turbulence and controversy have been closely following the new US President ever since he rose to political prominence in the Republican presidential debates. However, despite much controversy, Donald Trump has defied political common sense to defeat everybody standing in his way on the route to the White House.

However, now that he has assumed office, President Trump may find that the scandals that appeared to have little effect on his candidacy could catch up with him in office. His approval ratings have dipped to the lowest levels of any president a month into his tenure. Mass protests across the country, two unlawful bans on immigration from mainly-muslin countries, and a continuous attack on the mainstream media have dominated the headlines. Even many of his core supporters have become frustrated at his failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, one of the President’s key pledges on the campaign trail.

Many political figures are looking at possible implications for the 2018 midterms and, ultimately, the next presidential election. Yet, how likely is it that the 45th President of the United States will make it that far? A petition calling for Donald Trump to be impeached has been signed by around one million people and various betting companies are offering incredibly short odds on Mr Trump leaving office early.

History, however, would suggest that this is not likely. None of the 44 previous US Presidents ever left office through impeachment. Only two Presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have ever been subjected to an impeachment vote in Congress, and both cases saw the accused acquitted by the Senate.

Despite this, precedent has shown the most powerful man in the western world is far from untouchable when in office. The most infamous political scandal in the US, Watergate, effectively forced President Nixon to resign in 1974 before any opportunity for him to be impeached could succeed. Even though Mr Nixon was the last President to leave office outside of an election, substantial efforts were made to impeach Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in relation to his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Evidently then, it would take a huge political scandal to force a President out office before the end of his term. Yet, there is a general consensus that the threat of exactly this against President Trump is very real. Much of the thought behind this relates to the Trump administration’s possible ties to the Russian government before being sworn in to office.

Already, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has been forced to resign after misleading Vice-President Mike Pence over his relations with the Russian government. This has led to speculation that other members of President Trump’s administration, including Mr Trump himself, may also have had unlawful ties with Russia. After successfully evading a barrage of scandals and controversies, this could be the one scandal that he simply cannot escape from.

The shadow of Russian President Vladimir Putin has loomed large over Mr Trump and continues to do so. Photo: Kremlin.ru

However, it is impossible to say whether the Russia scandal will prove to be what unravels the Trump presidency, simply because attempts to link the president himself to any legal wrongdoing are, at the moment, only speculation. The other uncertainty in this case is through the impeachment proves itself. The constitution defines grounds for impeachment as crimes such as “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanours.” However, the exact meaning of this is open to interpretation.

Some members of office consider the decision of guilt to be entirely down to the opinion of congressmen. However, this is generally no longer accepted as, in effect, a president whose party controls Congress is untouchable. Many members of the public take another view; that impeachment is directly related to the president’s official duties. This came to light over the controversy surrounding the President’s attempts to ban residents of certain mainly-Muslim countries from entering the US, with the latest executive order blocked amid various legal challenges.

The main reading of the constitution however, is that should the President have committed a crime, then Congress is obliged to vote for the impeachment order. Donald Trump is currently not formally accused of wrongdoing, but he still has potential scandals left unresolved having refused to release his tax returns on the campaign trail, as well as facing a lawsuit from a former Apprentice contestant, accusing him of sexual assault. Add this to his administration being in the middle of controversy involving Russia, don’t be surprised if something escalates to this level in the coming months and years.

It is very possible that, should a scandal escalate, the Republican-controlled Congress would be unable to defend him. Photo: Wikipedia.

Should this happen, an impeachment order begins in the judiciary committee of the House of Representatives. This would then develop into a vote on the house floor if appropriate, where a majority would see it passed to a trial in the Senate. A President is then forced out of office should Senators vote for it with a two thirds majority. The system effectively rules out any chance of President Trump being forced out of office for anything other than a criminal offence, simply because the Republicans control both houses. It’s also worth pointing out the political turmoil that would follow an impeachment, with the Russia allegations affecting many in the Trump administration.

Based on current evidence then, impeachment appears unlikely at the moment. A President cannot be removed from office simply because you disagree with them, and it appears that with such strong protests against Mr Trump’s election, many people appalled by his policies and comments are taking impeachment talk too far.

What is incredible however, is that a President of the United States so early in his tenure has become so embroiled in scandal that the threat of unprecedented action against him has become a realistic possibility. President Trump’s controversial route to the Presidency has resulted in his long-term position becoming increasingly uncertain. However, with rumoured ties to Russia following many in the Trump administration around, impeaching the current President would be far from the end of the story.