You’re Fired! A short guide to Trexit

A short guide to the six ways Donald Trump’s presidency can end.

Donald Trump may cease to be President of the United States in six ways:
1. Expiry of his term of office.
2. Death in office.
3. Resignation.
4. Incapacity declared by himself.
5. Incapacity, physical or mental, declared against his will.
6. Impeachment.

Paddy Power currently gives the odds of Trump leaving office in 2020 or later at 52%. This looks optimistic to me, but let’s take it as a working hypothesis. We can’t rule out any of the five risks making up the 48% path to an early exit. Here are some notes on the basics.

1. Expiry of his four- or eight-year term of office.
This is the normal case established by Article II.1.1 of the US Constitution. The President is replaced by a newly elected successor.

2. Death in office.
Text: US Constitution, Article II.1.6 and Amendment 20. Succeeded by Vice-President.
Trump is like me over 70, but also overweight, eats junk food, takes little exercise, and takes unconfirmed medications for cholesterol and hair loss. He has an extremely choleric and aggressive personality and political style, magnifying the inherently very high stresses of the job. He is not a good insurance risk. A crisis in his physical health could lead to his death, preceded or not by incapacity (see below). The concealment of his medical condition makes it impossible for outsiders to assess the risk correctly. However, the Republican establishment could insist on getting full information as a precondition for continued support.

3. Resignation.
Text: US Constitution, Article II.1.6. Succeeded by Vice-President.
Trump might resign as a result of ill-health, see above, for example if a stroke leaves him an invalid. He might also resign because he is fed up with the job. This blends in with the involuntary removal under 5 or 6. Nixon resigned before he was impeached. Trump might respond to similar or lesser pressures by digging in his heels, or flouncing out. I see no way of predicting this.

4. Incapacity declared by himself.
Texts: US Constitution, Article II.1.6, 25th Amendment. Succeeded by Vice-President. Self-declared permanent incapacity would be equivalent to resignation. Self-declared mental incapacity would be a nice Epimenidean paradox, but it won’t happen. Temporary incapacity (an infectious illness or operation) is not Trexit. Forget about this.

5. Incapacity declared against his will.
Text: US Constitution, Article II.1.6, 25th Amendment. Succeeded by Vice-President.
The Amendment lays down the complicated procedure. Basically it needs a certificate by the Vice-President and a majority of ”either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide” – it hasn’t. On signing the declaration, “the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” The president can challenge the certificate, but is temporarily out of office until the Congress adjudicates. In this case, [updated, see comments], his removal requires a two-thirds majority vote of both houses of Congress.

There is a small risk of a conflict over physical incapacity. : a Woodrow Wilson scenario in which Trump is paralysed but conscious, and Jared and Ivanka insist he can take decisions while Pence and the Cabinet say not. [Update: commenter wscholine has convinced me that the 25th Amendment rules this out.] But mental incapacity is by far the more likely scenario. Another minor twist is that if the VP goes mad or falls under the mind control of aliens at the same time and says he’s fine, impeachment of both is the only way out.

6. Impeachment.
Texts: US Constitution, Articles I.2.5 for the House, I.3.6 for the Senate, and II.4 for the President and Vice-President. The House acts as prosecutor, with procedures laid down by precedent not law, in practice voting by a simple majority. The Senate acts as the tribunal, the impeachment requiring a 2/3 majority of Senators present. The VP has no role in the process and is replaced in the chair of the Senate by the Chief Justice. The VP succeeds automatically, unless impeached or resigns at the same time.

The fun cases to speculate about are 5 and 6: involuntary incapacity and impeachment. By constitutional design, the President cannot be removed either way by a narrow partisan majority. With the current Congress, either path requires a decision by a substantial number of Republicans that they have no alternative. The Democrats will presumably go along.

Which path would it be? To review the issues with the 45th President:
– terrible policies
– sleaze
– erratic decisions.

The terrible policies are the reason the Democrats want him gone, but they suit the Republicans just fine. In fact the policies are theirs. Trump has more or less abandoned those that set him apart from GOP orthodoxy during the campaign: trade wars, the Wall, protecting the welfare state. However, the terrible GOP policies (AHCA, tax cuts for the rich, rolling back civil and reproductive rights, neglect of unemployed and precarious workers, environmental and banking deregulation) are deeply unpopular. They drag down Trump’s popularity even more than theirs. So they provide the political backdrop to the drama over the other flaws.

The Congressional GOP will only decide to remove Trump if the polls – their reelection polls – are not just bad but catastrophic. There is a good chance of this. The Democrats can’t do much about the impeachment or 25th Amemdment processes in the Capitol and should concentrate on beating the drum in the boondocks about the terrible policies.

Sleaze is the rationale for impeachment, while erratic behaviour and possible dementia provide the rationale for a 25th Amendment declaration of mental incapacity. In formal terms, they are both bad enough already, and both likely to get worse. It is possible that events will dictate either impeachment (a Russian smoking gun) or a 25th Amendment declaration (something to do with nuclear weapons perhaps).

If the Republicans have a choice they will go with the 25th Amendment. There are three considerable pluses:

  • it works fast, and does not leave a furious Trump alone in the White House for weeks or months like Nixon with the nuclear football by his side;
  • it creates a narrative that puts the blame for his failed Presidency all on Trump the deranged outsider person and not on the GOP that enabled him and made him its Presidential candidate;
  • it ensures Pence takes over spotlessly as courageous man of the hour, while impeachment could easily taint him of involvement in a cover-up.

Either way, Trump’s redneck base will be white-hot furious with the betrayal. And many of them have guns. It’s not just bad polls and losing their seats that Republican congresspeople have to be scared of.

Corrections welcome. I’ll be be glad to update.

Update – stop press
The Justice Department – presumably Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who perhaps realizes he was played and then betrayed in the Comey firing – has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to pursue the Russian investigation. This increases the likelihood of impeachment and not the other early Trexit paths, right? Not so fast. As in the Nixon case, impending impeachment can lead to resignation. Second, impeachment pressure may make Trump’s behaviour even more erratic. Third, if evidence piles up warranting impeachment, establishment Republicans may still pick the 25th Amendment to avoid it. You need to keep watching both hands, the top hat, the girl in sequins, and the rabbit.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

41 thoughts on “You’re Fired! A short guide to Trexit”

  1. In #2, you write, "However, the Republican establishment could insist on getting full information as a precondition for continued support." I hope that you are not implying that, if Trump is in good health, the Republican establishment would be justified in supporting him. If you're not implying that, then why should they insist on getting full information from him? His physical health is irrelevant in light of his mental unfitness for office and his impeachable offenses.

  2. Agreed that in justice it's not relevant. But it could offer a graceful way out, if Trump can be persuaded to resign on doctor's orders.

  3. Under #3, Resignation. Maybe Trump could be persuaded that New Zealand, as a country, is younger and prettier than the United States, and could be persuaded to divorce the USA and move down under.

  4. a Woodrow Wilson scenario in which Trump is paralysed but conscious, and Jared and Ivanka insist he can take decisions while Pence and the Cabinet say not.

    How is this a concern? Javanka don't get a say in this case.

    1. Trump gets to object to being removed, and after some further gyrations, he must be voted out by two-thirds of both houses.

      If it comes to that it's hard to see enough Republicans voting to get rid of him unless he has gone much further than he has to date. Possibly Ivanka and Kushner will persuade him to object, in the unlikely event that he wouldn't do so on his own.

      In scenario 3 they also might talk him out of resigning.

      1. I've updated the paragraph in the post to clarify that the congressional votes are only needed if the President challenges the certificate of incapacity. A rational President, knowing he lacks the votes (which the Veep has previously counted), would resign first. But ex hypothesi he's not rational, right?

      1. And the 25th was not drafted in part to forestall the possibility of a recurrence of that scenario? Are you just saying "it might not work, because Ivanka will mesmerize enough Republican Congressmen who would otherwise vote to remove him?"

        1. Hmm. I think I'll concede on this one. Ivanka would have to hoodwink Pence and the Cabinet. They aren't the best and the brightest, but in a White House of round-the-clock leaking and backstabbing, it doesn't seem plausible. I'll correct the post.

          1. If (realizing what a big "if" that is) the Republicans wanted to invoke the 25th, they don't actually need anybody but Pence ("… or of such other body as Congress may by law provide"). They can appoint a panel of hatchet men to report that the President is unfit.

          2. No. It's "by law", which gives Trump a veto on the change. He's better off with the Cabinet of thugs he chose.

  5. We need to start thinking seriously about the underlying problem which will not go away when Trump does: an angry electorate which voted with its middle finger out of sheer resentment and frustration for a manifestly unfit man who told them what they wanted to hear, and who will believe him when he blames whomever he blames (media, liberals, the Deep State, Democratic “losers,” etc) for driving him from office. They will never accept responsibility for having voted on the basis of undisciplined emotion rather than on the basis of reason, a sense of history, and objective evidence. It is easy to deceive people, but very difficult to convince them that they have been deceived. Breitbart and Hannity and others will tell them why they did not get the pony they were counting on getting. This will create new dangers which we will have to deal with sooner than we would like.

    1. One difference between Trump on the one hand and Nixon, Reagan and Clinton on the other is that there were good reasons for the partisans most attached to their parties to resist impeachment. Strong Repubs supported Nixon and Reagan, and strong Dems supported Clinton, not out of particular love for the president, or even approval of the behavior that landed them in trouble, but because removing them would be bad for the party.

      With Trump, the dynamic is different. His strongest support comes from voters who hate the GOP almost as much as they hate Dems, and have no particular attachment to the Paul Ryan's dreams of massive tax cuts for the rich and destruction of the safety net. (We saw some of this dynamic when Trump voters said they were sure that Trump was going to make Obamacare better, not take away their healthcare altogether.)

      A lot of people who voted for Trump got their fondest wish – a conservative on the Supreme Court. To the extent that these folks – the ones not "economically insecure," not opposed to free trade, and not in favor of deporting all "illegal aliens" and banning Muslims – were hoping for action on Ryan's wishlist, surely must realize that any hopes they might have had have been dashed, and can never come to fruition with Trump in the WH. Surely they'd drop Trump in favor of Pence in a heartbeat. But the folks who love Trump mostly for his transgressions will just as surely see his removal as an act of betrayal. Even if these folks are in the minority in a lot of Repub districts, they're a big enough bloc to make it impossible for a Repub to win in even the most lopsided districts. It turns out that lying down next to a flea-ridden dog is not a smart thing to do, unless you really like fleas.

      1. Good observation. Rich people are realizing that Trump is becoming an obstacle to their tax cuts, and also realize that Pence has five fingers and can sign a Ryan tax cut bill as well as Trump, so they have an incentive to rid themselves of Trump. Trumpism, after he is gone, will seem to them to have died of natural causes such as gross incompetence and failure to deliver the goods on schedule. Its passing will not be lamented by these Republicans.

        Those who love Trump for his political incorrectness will feel that he was done in by the Deep State. Trumpism will have died, not from natural causes, but by foul play. Their reactions will have the potential to be dangerous.

    2. I totally agree. Right now I think Trump could win re election if he ran. I also wonder why dems who want to run in 2020 would go to Iowa instead of Michigan, Wisconsin, etc. right now? That's where I would be. In those very few counties that seem to now control our destiny.

      1. I think that Trump has lost too much support to win the general election if it were held again today. His approval rating on the Gallup tracking poll has been running about 19 percentage points underwater, so he would lose even if he retained almost all of the (minority of voters) who cast their ballots for him in November. His three million voter loss in the popular vote would be even greater, and the states he won narrowly would be likely to shift away from him.

    3. Yes, what is best is for Trump to be democratically rejected, not replaced by "elites".

  6. I'm disappointed that nobody has followed the red rag of mind control by aliens.

  7. This is the longest, most well thought out, erudite post I've seen in quite a while that comes across as wishful thinking. And just think…if a non-US citizen is thinking "wishfully" this way, how are we who voted with the majority (for all the good that did) supposed to survive the next 3.7 years?

    1. I'm flattered, but erudite only by Trump's abysmal standards. Any value I can add lies in the perspective of distance. The US Constitution is not a long read and on the succession issue at least it's reasonably clear. The Founders had classical educations and well knew the danger of unclear or badly designed succession rules to both republics and monarchies. The 25th Amendment fills in the gaps on contested incapacity and the replacement of the VP revealed by the Kennedy assassination, Wilson's illness, and other cases. Paddy Power's odds have not yet shifted in response to the Mueller bombshell, but they will.

  8. The appointment of a special counsel complicates this picture because it means there's no guarantee of a reset after either a 25th amendment removal or a resignation (or even impeachment). Thus, the risk/reward calculus for GOP-initiated Trexit swings hard over in the risk direction. The special counsel's brief is focused on campaign collusion with russia, but contains enough ambiguity to make it potentially fairly open-ended. (And just for laughs, it's not clear who would have current legal authority to fire the special counsel, since the Attorney General is recused, the deputy attorney general is compromised, and other ranks may or may not be implicated in the investigation. And firing special counsels has never gone well.)

    1. I don't get this. Making nice with Russia was specific to the Trump campaign. It's not part of the standard GOP toolkit. Ken Starr wandered far from his brief, but Mueller looks different. The GOP line on Trexit would be to blame Trump for everything. On Russia, this has the advantage of being true.

      1. According to some of the scuttlebutt (e.g. the WaPo story on House leadership "joking" about who was being paid by the Russians), explicit collaboration with Russia may have been a Trump innovation, but the rest of the GOP was somewhere between looking the other way and getting in on the action. Several republican members of congress used Wikileaks information in their campaigns, for example. And a serious special counsel is at least going to want to pull people in for interviews, at most thoroughly review their records. Anyone who knew and deliberately benefitted instead of calling in the authorities could face charges. But the main thing is that Trexit doesn't halt the investigation if the special counsel thinks there are still threads to pull on. Trexit plus Pexit might serve to insulate the rest of the party, but I don't see that happening quickly.

  9. "The Congressional GOP will only decide to remove Trump if the polls – their reelection polls – are not just bad but catastrophic. There is a good chance of this."

    From your point of view I have no doubt this seems plausible. From the Heartland perspective, not so much. How many Blue-state GOP Congresscritters' seats are in play? 'Cause Red-state support looks secure as ever from out here in the middle of it all. While I share a bit of your skepticism on the 52% probability prediction of completing his term for a variety of reasons (not the least likely of which is a CIA-sponsored assassination scenario — blame it on Putin to up the chaos level — what was that Rudy said before the election about it being the last? — but I digress), a 2/3 majority for removal looks like a very long shot to me. I put the chances of pulling a Palin much higher than being removed, seeing that he's already pulled a string of Nixons with impunity, but what do I know?

    Personally I'm ambivalent, having seen little to convince me Pence/Ryan would be much better.

    1. I think you've put your finger on an important consideration. It's by no means clear that removal of Trump from office would be an unalloyed good for Democrats or an unalloyed ill for Republicans, nor vice versa for his remaining in office. Trump unites Democrats and liberal-leaning independents like nobody else. When he leaves office, in whatever fashion, most politically aware people–and certainly most politically aware Americans–will breathe a sigh of relief. But if Pence is left in charge, he will be able to move ahead with his agenda, which will be no less right-wing than Trump's, and perhaps significantly more so–certainly more ideology-driven–and he will probably do so without the level of scrutiny from the press and attention from voters that Trump attracts. (I don't like using the honorable term "conservative" for Pence's agenda, as he displayed it in Indiana.)

      The longer Trump is in office, the more Republicans are embarrassed and the more Democrats are energized.

      1. President Pence would inherit the leadership of a party bitterly divided between the diehard Trumpists and the backstabbers like himself. His electoral legitimacy would be negligible. That would be on top of the internal contradictions within the congressional GOP exhibited by the AHCA saga. It would take a politician of mesmerising, Lloyd George or Mazarin – type skills to turn this round. Pence would just muddle along doing very little.

      2. Pence's ideology is also deeply unpopular, though, whereas most voters saw Trump as essentially non-ideological. I think that if Pence were to actually become President it would reassure the Very Serious People, pundits and such, and the deep-red-state religious right would be ecstatic (many actually voted for Trump in the belief that God would remove him and they were really voting for Pence), but most people would end up not liking him in short order.

    2. There's still a lot of visible support for him, but I'm not convinced it hasn't eroded somewhat. I've seen a very small number of people change their minds. Whether that adds up to enough is an open question.

      I think it's worth doing anything that keeps him busy not destroying the world, especially since I think he's not going to quit. Impeachment is a possibility after the 2018 elections, assuming people stay angry, and David Clarke doesn't get enough people jailed to throw the election. I still doubt Trump would be convicted in the Senate, though. There just aren't the votes. I see him in office till 2020 unless natural causes get to him (for values of "natural" which include "it wouldn't be natural to survive what Putin's cronies do to him").

      1. A Daily Kos post (hardly neutral, but sourced) claimed that the enthusiasm gap is wider than for baseline approval. Trump enthusiasts are trending tepid, Trump opponents are trending furious.

        1. That's consistent with my anecdata. One of my relatives has, I think, flipped or close to it from buyer's remorse. A casual acquaintance is back and forth on support and fuggedaboutit. That can make a difference in a non-landslide election. I still don't see the Senate votes till 2020. If he loses in 2020, then there's no problem with Senate votes; if he wins in 2020, then we've got a bigger problem. It's going to be an interesting three and two-thirds years.

    3. "I put the chances of pulling a Palin much higher than being removed, seeing that he's already pulled a string of Nixons with impunity, but what do I know?"

      Here's hoping he pulls a David Carradine!

  10. *Whatever* happens next, it will be something not envisioned or provided for in the 1787 Constitution.

    1. Of course, neither is Trump. If faced with someone like him, they'd probably say something like "It's still the 18th Century. Dueling is not allowed in the Constitution, but it's not expressly forbidden either. Let's just do what we can to encourage the folks lining up to do the honor to be patient and orderly."

  11. I think there is a voluntary resignation scenario. Trump has as a developer been in the habit of ginning up support for a project, getting things started, and then handing it over to lesser beings to manage. If he could be convinced that the presidency can, for him, work the same way–that having gotten things started, he's in a position now to hand it over to his right hand man Pence (Ryan, whoever) to work out the details while he himself goes about the important work of engaging with the citizens and keeping up their enthusiasm for the project, then I imagine he might be persuaded to resign and go back to holding his rallies.

    It would have to be sold to him the right way: he accomplished so much in so little time that he can hand the work over to his amazing, wonderful team, best team ever, and get back to doing what only he can do, which is holding rallies and keeping the voters energized; no other president has walked away from the office with so much accomplished, not in disgrace, and not having been voted out; he's leaving office as a greater success than any other president; if he ran again, no question, he'd get a landslide, but, y'know, he doesn't need that; he's been so successful at everything. He would need to be convinced that his leaving the presidency would not have a negative effect on people buying into his properties or businesses, but that could be done easily. They could arrange for him to come in and shake hands with world leaders and then let Pence work out the details.

    (It would have to get past objections by Javanka and Bannon, but if Priebus/Ryan/McConnell/McCain/whoever could present it persuasively, it might work. It would also keep Trump's base happy, if they [and he] can be persuaded that he maintains an unprecedented level of influence in the White House.)

    1. He might fall for it. See Cyril Kornbluth's great and horrifying story "The Marching Morons".

      Negotiated resignation under pressure is a very plausible scenario. If pressed, I would go for it as the most likely Trexit. You are right that for somebody as vain as Trump, there has to be a carrot as well as a stick. A presidential library and immunity from prosecution would be cheap at the price: Idi Amin got to live out a comfortable retirement in Saudi Arabia. You can't always have justice and an otherwise okay outcome. Schumer and Pelosi may have to face this dilemma for real.

      1. There's an added incentive: other "retirees" wanted to remain in their jobs–Nixon, Baby Doc Duvalier, Amin, Marcos. Trump is by all accounts really not happy with actually having to do the work required of presidents. He likes the appearance, however, and wants adulation. I can see where a skilled rhetor could present resignation and return to all the fun aspects of campaigning as a very attractive prospect for Trump in a way that it usually isn't for people in his position.

  12. Rob Ford stuck around until the bitter end in Toronto – and he had far fewer institutional protections against removal from office. I'm option 1 all the way.

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