A wise journalistic rule of thumb is to beware getting too caught up in the heat of the moment. Better to pitch your perspective forward a couple weeks or more. Ask yourself if today's crisis will be such a big deal then.
With respect to Tuesday’s thunderstorm which saw President Donald Trump accused by his own lawyer of being a co-conspirator in a felony, there are some who think it will blow away.
For one thing, Mr. Trump likely won’t be indicted. A sitting president has never been. For another, the first reaction from the President’s populist base was mild; from his Fox TV base the same; from Republicans on Capitol Hill, non-threatening also. Moreover, the offence was a violation of campaign spending laws which are rather common occurrences. One Trump defender compared it to jaywalking.
The problem for Mr. Trump is that the hush-money payout to two women during the election campaign is not a story that is about to go away. It has legs aplenty. So too does the same-day conviction of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. They each presage a deepening and broadening of the scandals that beset this president.
So much so that if Vice President Mike Pence wasn’t dancing in the streets at all the news on Tuesday, he should have been. The prospect of impeachment was a remote possibility before then. Now it is a real possibility.
Lanny Davis, Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, says his client will co-operate with the Mueller inquiry. Mr. Davis hints that Mr. Cohen has a lot to tell, that he had “knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.” That sounds ominous. Mr. Cohen, who knows as much as anyone about any dirty-dealings of Mr. Trump and has paper and perhaps recording trails, will also likely appear before Congressional committees.
Mr. Manafort, who was found guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud, will likely be heard from as well. Like Mr. Cohen, he stands to gain – in terms of winning a shorter sentence – from co-operating with the Mueller inquiry. Having worked for a Kremlin-backed Ukrainian leader, Mr. Manafort knows of ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians. In addition, there’s the razor-sharp lawyer Michael Avenatti, a bloodhound on the Stormy Daniels case who is determined to get a presidential deposition.
There’s also the Mueller inquiry itself. It has just gained new credibility on account of the Manafort conviction. David Gergen, who has worked for presidents going all the way back to the 1960s, said that had Mr. Manafort been cleared, the inquiry would have been all but dead in the water. Now it has new life. Mr. Gergen said there is a cancer on the Trump presidency. Having worked for Mr. Nixon, he is well familiar with the phrase.
Mr. Trump’s support level is currently around 42 per cent. If the past is any indication, his sleazy record with women – the revelations in the Hollywood Access tape being just one example – have not cost him in public support. The hush-money payouts were suspected to have occurred anyway.
But the almost simultaneous double-barrelled hit on him will likely serve to have more independents desert him and significantly increase the chances of the Democrats winning a majority in the House of Representatives, if not the Senate as well, in the November midterm elections.
The House initiates impeachment proceedings. If the Democrats win control, such proceedings are now likely to happen. With impeachment requiring a simple majority, that would likely be achieved. The question then goes to the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required. There is no chance the Democrats will have that number. More probable is an even split in the chamber following the midterms, meaning impeachment would require close to 20 Republicans to vote against Mr. Trump.
But if Mr. Trump is engulfed in scandal and sinking in public esteem, that might not be such a tall order. Many in the party could be dead set against running under his banner in 2020. As was the case with Richard Nixon, they could send a signal to Mr. Trump that he would not survive an impeachment vote, that his days are numbered.
Given the events of this week, there’s a good chance they are.