For Donald J. Trump, the week ahead has got to be better than the one he just endured.
The furor over the guilty plea of his personal lawyer and fixer is behind him, the Senate’s astonishing defiance in ending American aid for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen won’t be supported by a House vote and the resignation Saturday of his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, swept away an additional ethics contretemps he didn’t need. Best of all, he won’t have to greet his tormentors in the Washington press corps at the annual White House Christmas parties because he cancelled them.
Even so, things seem to be closing in on Mr. Trump – though his critics are no closer to removing him from office. Mr. Trump, to be sure, is vulnerable to impeachment in the House, which will be controlled by the Democrats as soon as noon on Jan. 3. But it remains unlikely.
The methodical investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller grinds away. The threat remains that Mr. Trump might be named an unindicted co-conspirator – a toxic title that inevitably would raise dangerous comparisons to Richard Nixon in the months before imminent impeachment led the 37th president to resign.
Fresh evidence of the President’s troubles came late Sunday, with the release of the newest Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, which showed a stark difference between Mr. Trump’s popular profile and the popular standing of Bill Clinton at the time he was being impeached. Mr. Clinton’s job approval was at 65 per cent, as compared with Mr. Trump’s at 43 per cent. About 51 per cent of the public had positive personal feelings about Mr. Clinton, while only 37 per cent profess such sentiment about Mr. Trump.
These poll findings are all the more unsettling for the President because they persist at a period where unemployment, at 3.7 per cent, is lower than the 4.4 per cent recorded for Mr. Clinton at the time he was facing impeachment. Only 28 per cent of Americans believed Mr. Clinton should be impeached, as opposed to the 43 per cent recorded in last week’s CNN poll.
(Though Mr. Clinton was impeached in the House 20 years ago this week, he was not convicted in the Senate in early 1999.)
“The point is that if you look at the atmospherics, you have the same great economy, the same low unemployment, in both cases but vastly different attributes of the two presidents,” Peter D. Hart, the veteran Democratic pollster who conducted the Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, said in an interview. "There’s not a lot of footing for the President. It’s all in the Republican base. He has no strength among independents and minus, minus, minus results among Democrats.
“The numbers are just terrible for Trump,” Mr. Hart continued. “At the time when the wind should be at the President’s back, he’s facing a swift wind.”
A swift wind – but not hurricane-force gusts.
Both the mathematics and the architecture of American politics are proving to be his protection amid these storms.
Impeachment requires only a majority vote in the House but lawmakers know it is a frightful, fateful step that did not benefit House Republicans when they proceeded against Mr. Clinton two decades ago for his conduct with a White House intern and his efforts to obstruct justice.
In mid-October, former vice-president Joe Biden said he hoped House Democrats don’t initiate impeachment proceedings. Representative Jerrold Nadler, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment proceedings would originate, said last week that he believed the President had committed impeachable offences. But – reflecting the complexity of the Upper West Side Democrat’s views on contemporary politics and his perspective on the 18th-century origins of American impeachment proceedings – he added that just because Mr. Trump’s actions were impeachable doesn’t mean he will be, or should be, impeached.
Mr. Nadler, who holds a law degree from a Jesuit institution and whose approach to the law reflects the rigour and logic of that training, resisted efforts to begin impeachment proceedings against president George W. Bush and vice-president Richard B. Cheney. He has said that he would not initiative such proceedings without considering the gravity and clarity of the charges and without indications that at least some Republicans favoured an impeachment inquiry. And he repeatedly has said that such an effort would be pointless unless there was a plausible chance of conviction in the Senate, which requires a two-thirds vote of a body that now has a Republican majority. Right now, the prospects of that are remote.
Remote, too, are the prospects, so dearly desired on the American left, that the Trump ethos in American politics will vanish if the Democrats regain control of the White House in 2021. “Some of the offensive and vexing aspects of Trump may disappear," said David Azerrad, the Montreal native who directs the Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “But the deeper aspects of his ideology may not.”