As you are aware, the tag line for this blog is, “Consider all the possibilities!” To do that, you have to challenge conventional wisdom or the perceived boundaries imposed on us by law or tradition. This tenet of critical thinking came to mind as many individuals are starting to wonder whether a President Pence would be any better than the current White House squatter, if and when he is impeached or forced to resign. This line of inquiry is only relevant if you assume this is the prescribed Constitutional remedy when the nation’s highest office is vacant. It also assumes any other outcome would be extra-constitutional (e.g. a special election for which there is currently no provision in the founding documents) and a greater threat to our democracy than Pence serving until the 2020 election.
I beg to differ. In fact, it is a second maxim, “the law of unintended consequences,” which provides the road map for an alternative resolution of our latest national nightmare. And, I cannot believe I’m saying this, we have Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate to thank. For they were the ones who bent the rules to ensure Justice Scalia’s replacement was nominated and confirmed outside the regular order of business.
Consider the following scenario. The FBI investigation results in criminal charges of treason against several Trump associates. Comrade Trump, like Richard Nixon during the Watergate prosecutions, is named as an unindicted co-conspirator. But one thing is clear. The entire Trump campaign organization was engaged with the Russian government and its operatives. Even though His Orangeness continues to rail against the media and the judiciary, an overwhelming percentage of Americans recognize neither Trump or Pence deserve to occupy the oval office.
In response, members of the Republican controlled House Judiciary Committee, in an attempt to protect their own political careers, threaten to begin impeachment proceedings if both Trump and Pence do not resign. Their end game is to elevate House Speaker Paul Ryan to the office of president, something the GOP establishment likely preferred all along. However, Democratic members of the committee join with the few remaining Trump loyalists to block the impeachment hearings. The always delusional Trump believes, despite the growing evidence of treasonous activity, he can beat the odds, win re-election in 2020 and refuses to step down.
Here is where Democrats have an opportunity to show America they actually learned something from the Supreme Court coup perpetrated by McConnell and his Senate colleagues. Delay until you are in a position to change the outcome. Yes, the Constitution states the Speaker of the House is third in line for the presidency. But Paul Ryan fits the bill only if he is still Speaker of the House. Delay impeachment hearings until after the 2018 mid-term elections when the Democrats have a chance to again become the majority party in the House. Their choice for Speaker then becomes the legitimate successor if Trump and Pence are both forced from office.
Now, I will be the first to admit, if you want to heal a divided country, Nancy Pelosi is probably not the person most people would choose. Which gives Pelosi and the Democrats a unique opportunity to demonstrate what it truly means to put country before party. Knowing that the next speaker may soon occupy the White House, the Democrats choose a respected, experienced member of their caucus as Speaker, someone in whom the country will support as a caretaker until the 2020 presidential contest. Pelosi is then elected majority leader and returns to the Speaker’s chair following the transfer of presidential power to the sitting speaker.
But I’m also not naive. It would be understandably hard for Pelosi to forego the chance to be the first female president, even if the historical record has an asterisk next to her name. As in the alternative scenario above, she could present herself as a caretaker by declaring she would not seek election in 2020. Under the 25th amendment, she could nominate someone for vice-president who would likely become the front runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
I know! I know! It’s hard to imagine all the pieces falling into place under which either of these story lines becomes a reality. But, I ask you, are they any more unlikely than voters electing a narcissistic, misogynist, pathological lying, con man as president in the first place?
For what it’s worth.