News and Events

2018-12-03 00:00:02

U.S. Prof. Schultz on the Future of Trump's Presidency

prezidento-rinkimai-jav-dr-david-schultz-1422 Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) Justice LAB member David Schultz, an expert on U.S. elections, discusses the future of U.S. President Donald Trump's presidency.

The Trump presidency has always been a rocky and contentious one, but recent and coming events will try its soul in ways that have not previously been seen. While some speculate that President Trump will not make it to the end of his term in 2021, realistically it would take a lot to change for him to be impeached, convicted of a crime, or resign.  What forces and events will impact his presidency in the coming months?

Trump Himself

The Death of U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush points to a significant contrast in personalities and the weakness of President Trump as a person.  Bush’s death provides not just a retrospective on the 41st president’s legacy, but also speaks to the deficiencies of the Trump presidency.  

Bush’s presidency illustrates many legacies–some good and some bad. But, psychological temperament and style stand out.  President Bush’s career in business and government–especially the latter as CIA director, UN ambassador, member of Congress, and Vice-president before becoming President–point to someone with the skills, knowledge, and experience to lead the country.  Bush’s resume was one of understanding how Washington worked. It was also a resume that demonstrated a commitment to diplomacy, knowledge-based decision making, and a respect for the processes of government.

President Bush appointed knowledgeable and competent people to serve him. He approached the world, as in the case of the first Gulf War, with a sense of multilateralism and diplomacy that starkly contrast to what Trump displays.  Additionally, President Bush, unlike Trump, was willing to accept responsibility for his actions and he made choices–such as correctly breaking his no new taxes pledge–that demonstrated real leadership and a willingness to compromise.

Whether many realize it or not, the passing of President Bush will only highlight so much more the deficiencies of Trump and his presidency.  

Michael Cohen and the Looming Special Prosecutor Report

Perhaps the most significant event affecting the Trump presidency took place last week when Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pled guilty to lying to Congress.  It was not so much the lying that was the issue, but it was what the lie was about. It dealt with the fact of pursuing a business deal with Russia. Why is this significant?

Central to the special prosecutor’s investigation on Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. elections and the role that the Trump campaign had in colluding with them has been ascertaining of motive.  By that, the issue has been to try to explain why President Trump and his associates may have wanted to collude with them, or why they seemed even now unwilling to take a hardline with Russia's President Vladimir Putin or otherwise condemn the investigation.  The simple answer is that President Trump had possible economic ties then and perhaps now with Russia that he did not want to reveal and which may have then and now continue to cloud his judgements as president.

Keep in mind that President Trump this week did confirm much of the details of Cohen’s confession about a Russian Trump tower deal.  This fact no longer seems in dispute.  The deal now speaks to how the Trump business empire, his campaign, and now presidency are intertwined, and how there may have been interest or motive to collude with Russians to get a better economic deal for Trump.  There is a possible quid pro quo emerging.  The Russians did not want Clinton elected, Trump wanted a business deal and perhaps a presidency. The art of the deal suggests: strike a deal so that everyone gets what they want.  This quid pro quo is perhaps the core of everything which has thus far unfolded. It goes far beyond accusations that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extended special deals to countries and those who were donors to the Clinton Foundation.

Democratic Control of the House

Democrats taking control of the U.S. House is significant on multiple fronts.  They will pose a policy limit on President Trump and they will also be able to conduct many investigations and perform the oversight of the executive branch and agencies that the Republican House never was willing to do.  But House control by Democrats also closely connects to the special prosecutor’s actions.

One must also read between the lines in the Cohen plea.  It is no surprise that special prosecutor Robert Mueller knows more than the media is reporting.  One can surmise that once the Democrats take control of the House in January Mueller will be able to release a report to them, even if he is fired.  There is little chance that Mueller will indict Trump, even if the evidence supports it. Instead, he will follow the March 1, 1974 Justice Department Memorandum which then referred allegations of Nixon’s criminality to the House.  The same will possibly happen here.

One can probably expect the special prosecutor to indict more individuals, especially given Cohen’s plea.  One might also see Trump pardoning many individuals such as Paul Manafort who remain loyal to him.  But even if all this occurs, the one-two punch of a special prosecutor’s report and Democratic House control will constrain the Trump presidency even more than it has already.

Mounting Personal Lawsuits

President Trump faces numerous civil lawsuits in state and federal court that will continue to dog him. They cannot be halted by presidential pardons or judicial appointments. These suits involve sexual harassment issues, the Trump Foundation, his business dealings and how they tie into whether he violated the Constitution’s Emolument clause, among others.  Presidents cannot issue self-pardons, especially in civil matters, and his authority does not extend to state courts where he cannot control appointments to the federal bench or the Supreme Court.

2020 Economic Slowdown

Perhaps the biggest wild card is the economy.  The U.S. is in the middle of one of the longest recoveries and bull markets in history.  But there are many signs that the end is coming. Internationally, there is a slowing down of world economic growth that will affect U.S. exports.  Also, as a globally interconnected economy, the U.S. will be impacted by what happens elsewhere.  Rising interest rates are impacting an already slowing down housing market, that seemed until recently to be overheated.  

The Trump tax cuts, according to analysts, either had little impact on economic growth–especially when most of the tax cuts were taken as profits and not reinvestments–or they have run their course.  The trade wars are beginning to impact many U.S. sectors, including agriculture and the auto industry (as seen by GM’s plans to close facilities). The tightening of immigration is leading to labor shortages.

Finally, the Trump administration has failed to address longer term structural problems with the U.S. economy such as the significant racial and economic gaps tht limit opportunities for many, unequal economic development, decaying infrastructure, and an inability to deal with global economic issues, such as the increasing competitiveness of China and other major economies. Throw into this also a growing budget deficit that will force the U.S. to borrow more money at higher interest rates. All told, the recent Wall Street stock jitters highlight what many see as a first or second 2020 economic slowdown that will impact the presidential race.

Will the Republicans Abandon President Trump?

All of the above forces will serve as manor checks on the remaining Trump presidency.  But does that mean that Republicans in the Senate, or his base will abandon him?  As of now there is little sign of that.   It would take a significant combination of the above events for that to happen and for there to be a serious chance of Republicans calling for impeachment, or for there to be support for challenges to Trump were he to run for a second term.  President Trump remains more popular among his base than do the rest of the Republicans. Until such time as his base leaves him, one cannot foresee this scenario.