It’s become trendy to keep chickens these days for the fun and the eggs. A friend told me recently: “If a baby chick has even the smallest injury, a drop of blood — the other chicks will immediately peck it to death.” This describes Washington D.C.’s political instincts in a vivid concise metaphor. At this point, Donald Trump’s administration has a lot of blood on the dancefloor. It’s unclear whether he’ll even exceed Sarah Palin — another brazen Republican entertainment figure — and her brief tenure as Governor of Alaska. After all, he said within the first 100 days of his presidency:
“This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier… I loved my previous life.” — Reuters
Trump’s election campaign was intended to be a vanity candidacy — an attention-getting mechanism for a reality show star and social media influencer passionate about politics. Trump has been quoted as believing his campaign would only last through October 2015. Now he’s seemingly trapped in a town where everyone — not just him — is important and many are not fans. He appears visibly unhappy, frustrated, overwhelmed, underprepared and eager to return to the more comfortable world of Celebrity Apprentice and golfing in Florida. He has gone golfing 13 times in the first 9 weeks of becoming President even as his administration flails and fails — his travel ban, healthcare, deteriorating relations with other Republicans, the rapid resignation of his controversial National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, the ongoing investigations into Russia’s role in the U.S. election, hundreds of senior administration positions unfilled, a wall that’s become a fence his own Homeland Security head believes cannot be completed and seems unlikely to be paid for by Mexico. All of this has led to a tanking approval rating in the 30s and 40s.
If you’re Mike Pence or Paul Ryan, you must be thinking to yourself under the circumstances — “I could be President soon”. If you’re Mike Pence, a winning path to the Presidency might be as Leaker in Chief. Pence is in the perfect position to undermine Trump and his cabinet through slow leaks from within the White House cloister. The trick is a) stay on good enough terms and close enough to get information to leak while b) maintaining a safe distance from Trump’s corrosive rhetoric, clear incompetence and evident corruption. Pence must preserve enough moral authority to be seen as a viable alternative leader both in D.C. and with the general public. It’s a tough tightrope to walk.
If you’re Paul Ryan, a strategy that leads to the Presidency might be to give Trump enough rope to hang himself. Allow him room to fail while seeming to be cooperative, even supportive — up to a point. Then launch impeachment hearings. There’s likely to be a bi-partisan surge of support for removing Trump once his administration is in full meltdown — the chicks must peck the bloodied one to death to save themselves. Ryan has a number of entry points — the Russia connections, the constant falsehoods which have grown in seriousness, the lack of discipline in matters of national security (also growing in seriousness), whatever is in Trump’s tax returns, the emoluments issue in which his investments combined with his pro-business policies put him in conflict with the Constitution — which individually or combined might prove ample ammo for impeachment.
So whither the Donald? In the past, his exit strategies have largely been centered around bankruptcy (i.e. I don’t have to pay you; talk to my lawyers) or litigation (i.e. I don’t have to talk to you; talk to my lawyers). These techniques have successfully extracted Trump from many business and PR failures. Those aren’t options now. How can he exit gracefully as a “winner” in the face of jaw-dropping losses.
Perhaps we’ll have to pay him. Would Trump concede to leave if he can somehow negotiate a payment or a “deal” from the government (or other sources) that allows him to claim some sort of “win”? We’ll see. British betting houses have been flooded with bets that Trump won’t last his first term and will leave either via resignation or removal. They’ve steadily lowered the odds of a complete term from 50/50 at the beginning of his presidency to 10/11 in recent weeks. Ultimately the question may be less about what becomes of Trump but what comes next in his reign’s aftermath.