(Image source: Ryan Johnson/City of North Charleston/Wikimedia Commons)
As the American political elite head for Christmas holidays, the buzz in Washington circles is that 2019 will start with fresh attempts at curtailing the Trump presidency or, failing that, preventing Donald Trump's re-election in 2020. Amateurs of the conspiracy theory may suggest that the whole thing may be a trap set by the Trump camp to keep the president's opponents chained to a strategy doomed to failure.
By devoting almost all of their energies to attacking Trump personally and praying that the Mueller probe may open the way for impeachment, the president's opponents, starting with the Democrat Party leadership, have shut down debate about key issues of economic, social and foreign policy -- issues that matter to the broader public. Reducing all politics to a simple "Get Trump!' slogan makes them a one-trick pony that may amuse people for a while but is unlikely to go very far.
Despite sensational daily headlines furnished by the Mueller soap opera, there is little chance of the impeachment strategy to get anywhere close to success. And even if the pro-impeachment lobby succeeds in triggering the process, it is unlikely that this would lead to Trump's removal from office. In fact, out of the 45 men who have served as President of the United States only two, Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton, faced formal impeachment procedures, but neither was driven out of office.
Two others, Richard Nixon and John Tyler, came close to being impeached but managed not to face the music in the end. Nixon resigned and Tyler dodged by not seeking re-election. With impeachment unlikely, Trump's opponents may be looking for other ways of terminating his tenure at the White House. One way is to exert so much psychological pressure that he decides to regain his tranquility by resigning. However, apart from Nixon's special case, the resignation has never been a feature of the American presidential history.
In any case, Trump looks like the last man on earth to opt for the humiliation of entering history as a quitter. A third way to get rid of Trump is to persuade the Republican Party not to nominate him for a second term. At first glance that may look like a credible option if only because the main body of the Republican Party has never warmed up to Trump.
In fact, calling Trump a Republican president may be more of a verbal conceit than an accurate depiction of reality. In the mid-term elections in November, some Republican senators and congressmen insisted that Trump should stay away from their campaigns. Some who did lose their seats may have regretted their decision, as Trump proved to be in command of his own support base beyond the Republican Party.
The anti-Trump section of the US media is desperate to find at least one Republican figure capable of challenging the incumbent president in the coming nomination contest. So far, however, none of the putative knights-in-shining-armor fielded by the anti-Trump media has succeeded in making an impression. In any event, there are only five cases in which an incumbent president failed to win re-nomination by his party. Of these, four were men who had inherited the presidency after the death of the president.
One was the already mentioned -- John Tyler, who became president in 1841 after the death of President William Henry Harrison. Another was Millard Fillmore, who entered the White House after the death of President Zachary Taylor.
The third on the list was the already mentioned Andrew Jackson, who not only failed to secure re-nomination but also narrowly escaped impeachment. The fourth was Chester Arthur, who took over after the assassination of President James Garfield. He was ditched when he launched an anti-graft campaign that alienated many within his own party.
Only one sitting president who had won the first term failed to secure re-nomination by his party. He was Franklin Pierce, whose demise came in exceptional circumstances created by the division over the issue of slavery as the nation moved towards the War of Secession. Today, none of those conditions obtains in the United States and the Republican Party, and the possibility of a palace revolt against the incumbent seems remote. Some of Trump's opponents publicly pray that he might forswear a second term because of poor health. Although he has entered his eight-decade, however, Trump shows no signs of physical fatigue let alone serious illness leading to possible incapacitation. During the mid-term elections, this septuagenarian was capable of flying from one end of the continent to the other in a single day to address half a dozen public meetings.
That political power may act as an aphrodisiac and doping agent has been known at least since the time of the great Xerxes, whose only regret was that, in 100 years, none in his million-man army would be alive. There is no doubt that Trump thrives on power and, despite the extra kilos he has gained in the past two years, still sees himself as a long-distance runner. The mistake that Trump's opponents made from the start, and some still continue to make, is to underestimate him and dismiss his appeal to wide segments of society as an aberration.
Trump has, however, managed to question the political agenda by questioning the so-called Washington Consensus that led to globalization with all its benefits and drawbacks. In his unorthodox manner, Trump has put a number of burning issues back on the agenda.
These include the widening income gap in the United States, the unintended and unexpected consequences of outsourcing, and the disequilibrium created by signing trade agreements with countries with different labor laws and environmental, health and safety standards. In foreign policy, Trump has managed to pass on an important message: don't take American heavy lifting for granted! More importantly, Trump has persuaded millions of Americans excluded or self-excluded from the political arena to end their isolation and demand a meaningful place in collective decision-making. Thus, for the time being at least, air-brushing Trump out of the picture is a forlorn task.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.