Clifford & Cohn: Pence would restore democracy, irk Democrats

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Eleanor Clift


Thursday, August 9, 2018

President Trump is in self-destructive mode, and he is succeeding, tweeting comments that can be used against him and raging against the media for what he sees as unfair coverage. He’s not helping himself with his increasingly unhinged and erratic behavior.

With Vice President Pence waiting in the wings, and Republicans likely to take significant losses in the November midterms, a Pence presidency sometime in the coming year is looking more likely than not. What that means for the nation is both positive and negative, depending on one’s political perspective.

Like Gerald Ford who was sworn in as president after Richard Nixon resigned, the low-key Pence would end Trump’s imperial presidency and restore small-d democracy. He would halt the tariff wars roiling farmers in the Midwest and return to the GOP’s free trade policies. He would support America’s traditional allies and uphold existing international alliances.

The Republic would be safe, just as it was with Ford, and the country could return to pre-Trump normalcy.

The difference is that Ford was not an ideologue. He was an establishment Republican from Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 20-year member of Congress before assuming the presidency, someone who took his cues from the mainstream of the party.

Pence served seven terms in the House, where he was a member of the Tea Party Caucus, before stepping down to run for governor of Indiana in 2012. He describes himself as a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order. A traditional Republican when it comes to a strong defense and support for NATO, his politics are shaped by his religious fervor and his strong opposition to abortion.

Eighteen years ago, when he and his wife, Karen, explained to their two young daughters why they were moving to Washington, they used a Life magazine cover of a human fetus to explain their goal to end abortion.

Pence was raised Roman Catholic in a Democratic household. He voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976, but his politics changed in college when he became an evangelical born again Christian.

If Pence becomes president, we can expect more judicial nominees with a strong religious bent, like Justice Neil Gorsuch, and more Supreme Court rulings that blur the line between church and state.

Democrats would prefer a weakened Trump to an effectively organized Pence who would be able to get through more of the conservative agenda. But if Trump’s fortunes continue to spiral down, there may be no luxury of choice.

The president’s tweet that Attorney General Sessions should fire special counsel Mueller comes close to obstruction of justice. The White House characterized the tweet as an opinion, not an order, but it’s clear that’s what Trump wants to do. He wants to end the Mueller probe, and he’s tossing lots of rhetoric out there to gage the reaction.

If he finds a way to fire Mueller before the midterm election, Republicans will take an even bigger beating, potentially losing the Senate in addition to the House. If he doesn’t fire Mueller, Trump knows better than anyone except maybe Mueller, what he might be facing in a court of law, and in the court of public opinion.

That’s where Pence comes in. Firing Mueller would create a firestorm, and Pence could face pressure to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump. Pence would never do it on his own but if key figures came to him from the Cabinet, and from the Senate, imploring him to put the constitutional process in place, Pence could say the president’s ability to function has been impaired by the strain of the office, and that he must step down.

Firing Mueller is the tripwire. Pence is waiting.

Founded 1932, Washington Merry-Go-Round presents today’s events in historical perspective. Douglas Cohn is a columnist, speaker and author of political and historical nonfiction. Eleanor Clift is political reporter, author, a contributor to MSNBC and blogger for The Daily Beast.