“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” So wrote Danish politician Karl Kristian in the fourth volume of his autobiography. (Kristian is usually credited with having been the first person to have offered this well-known aphorism.) With this gentle admonition in mind, I predict that President Donald Trump will resign the presidency prior to the 2020 election.
The obvious analogy to our current political reality is the odyssey of former President Richard Nixon, who will be forever linked to the Watergate scandal that marred his tenure and shook the foundations of our democracy. In what amounted to a friendly (but dire) warning, Sens. Hugh Scott and Barry Goldwater, along with Congressman John Jacob Rhodes met with Nixon on Aug. 7, 1974. These men, all of whom were Republicans, told Nixon that he was going to be impeached in the House of Representatives, after which he would almost certainly be convicted in the Senate and removed from office. Nixon resigned two days later. Admittedly, I don’t have any empirical evidence that a similar scenario is going to play out in the not-too-distant future, but impending impeachment of President Trump is ripe for just that outcome.
Though Trump’s impeachment in the House is now a certainty, his conviction in the Senate seems unlikely — at this point. So, why do I think that he will resign? It boils down to the fact that self-preservation is humanity’s primal instinct. Most Americans know that the House is interviewing witnesses and gathering information vis-à-vis Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this past July 25. Most are not aware of the multiple ongoing investigations that are taking place at the congressional (12), federal (10) and state and local (8) levels. Some of these investigations have to do with Trump’s 2016 campaign and inauguration, whereas others are related to misdeeds that he and those around him are alleged to have committed since he assumed office. Still others concern some of his current and prior business dealings, questions about his taxes, his alleged emoluments violations and other charges — some of which could ensnare President Trump’s children, his son-in-law, one or more of his attorneys, current and former subordinates, and even some Republican allies in the House and/or Senate.
Much of my prediction rests upon two related suppositions. The first is that much of the legal wrangling that is occurring in the court system (e.g., whether Trump will have to turn over his tax records) ultimately will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The other supposition is that Chief Justice John Roberts ultimately will side with his left-leaning colleagues, as he did regarding his decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”). Roberts is an “institutionalist.” In other words, he cares deeply about the independence of the Supreme Court (real and perceived). Further, he is troubled that many Americans view the Court as overtly partisan — even sparring with Trump himself about this point. Roberts cannot abide SCOTUS ruling in favor of Trump along “party lines,” especially when so many of the president’s legal arguments are so outlandish. (It seems likely that some, if not all, of Trump’s arguments will be denied based in part upon precedents that SCOTUS decided during the Nixon saga.)
Finally, one of the major challenges that President Trump faces is the fact that, should certain investigations lead to the conclusion that he has committed wrongdoing, he cannot offer a presidential pardon to anyone who is found guilty of state and local charges — including himself. This is the crux of my argument that he will resign the presidency. Specifically, he will do so in exchange for a guarantee that neither he, nor his children (including his son-in-law) will ever face jail time for any criminal offense of which they are (or likely would be) convicted.
My strong opposition to this president notwithstanding, those who know me best understand that — should my prediction come true — I would take no joy in having been prescient. I am a patriot who strongly believes in the American experiment. Ideally, prior elections are nullified at the ballot box rather than by an inherently political (and inevitably partisan) process. Yet, the founders of the republic endowed the Congress with the power — and the responsibility — to hold the president accountable to his or her oath of office. As Ron Chernow wrote recently in The Washington Post, Donald Trump has proven to be precisely the kind of person who Alexander Hamilton had in mind when he wrote in “The Federalist” about the importance of having a strong president — even as he championed the necessity to impeach and remove him or her if warranted. We are a nation of laws. For better and for worse, the president is the personification of those laws. He can neither govern by fiat nor flout our laws with impunity. One way or another, there must be a reckoning.
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at email@example.com.