Trump may be wounded but his fall is not imminent
President Donald Trump is under intense pressure and US democracy is in the spotlight again. The conviction of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort on several fraud counts is no doubt embarrassing. And the guilty pleas entered by his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen — nicknamed “Mr. Fix-It” — could implicate the president for using campaign money to pay off two women with whom he reportedly had affairs in about 2006, long before his nomination as a candidate for the US presidency. The two women, adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal were paid “hush money” in 2016 to silence them in the middle of a Trump presidential campaign that was gaining momentum.
Any legal proceedings could undeniably tarnish the reputation of a controversial president like Trump and, yes, the convictions of close members of his team has wounded him, but I doubt it will lead to his downfall. The jury is, however, still out in the legal proceedings related to the more serious allegations that special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating — namely whether or not Trump or his team colluded with the Russians during the election campaign.
Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman before he was forced to quit in August 2016 over ties he had to Russian oligarchs during his work in Ukraine as a political consultant. His convictions last week could only be the beginning, as he is due to face a second federal criminal trial on charges of money laundering and illegal lobbying, due to begin in September.
Even if it is established that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the US elections and that the president was aware that Russian agents mounted a campaign to favor him over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, proceedings against the president could only be taken up by Congress. A two-thirds majority would be needed in the Senate and a simple majority in the House of Representatives to start the lengthy process of removing him, but the chances of that happening are currently very slim, even if the Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives in November’s midterms.
Writing off Trump in light of the Mueller investigation and any potential outcome could be dangerous; this is because all the indicators are pointing to a long rather than a short presidency.
The Trump troubles, as one could safely call them at this stage, or the troubles of his presidency, are not likely to lead to his resignation or impeachment. The Manafort and Cohen cases are serious but not likely to topple him.
Since the American Civil War, only three presidents have been close to being impeached — one resigned and the others continued in office despite the legal wrangling that shook their position. The three were Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton; Nixon decided to resign, while Clinton and Johnson served their terms.
Many in America, both for and against Trump and contrary to common wisdom and media reports, think that the current events and attacks on the president could actually benefit him. They see that the attacks on his previous associates are damaging, but could also be used to help rally support for the president and his party in the midterm elections.
The “witch hunt” — a term chosen by Trump to describe the latest convictions against his ex-aides and his presidency — could embolden Trump’s core constituency and drive them to show up in their droves to ensure the Republican Party does not lose its majority in Congress.
On the world stage, Trump’s troubles might be interpreted as a prelude to his departure, or simply a problem that will haunt and weaken his administration domestically and internationally. Since becoming president, Trump’s style has rattled policy-makers everywhere. He has clashed with allies before enemies. While Trump sought to play up his special relationship with China’s President Xi Jinping, he did not hesitate to start a tariff war with Beijing, as well as with the EU, Canada and Mexico.
While Trump is being investigated for collusion with the Russians at home, he did not hesitate to slam sanctions on Moscow for its continued chemical weapons use, such as the March assassination attempt in the UK of a former Russian double agent. The US’ Western allies are still baffled by Trump’s attacks on the NATO alliance, while he has also courted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a bid to persuade Pyongyang to decommission its missile and nuclear arsenal.
In the Middle East, he relocated the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, angering all Muslims and Arabs, while tightening the noose on Iran by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and re-imposing sanctions on Tehran.
Writing off Trump in light of the Mueller investigation and any potential outcome could be dangerous. True, his leadership style has been labeled as erratic and unpredictable by many, but so far he has been trying to deliver on his campaign slogan of putting America first on immigration, trade, security and the economy.
The president, in an interview with Fox News after the convictions of his former aides, lashed out against the US justice system, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department, the FBI and Cohen, but vindicated Manafort. This clearly shows a wounded president, but he should not be written off domestically or internationally. Yes, his comments and tweets baffle and his attacks on the media could have serious long-term consequences on how politics is practiced in the US, but Trump looks capable of riding out the storm. All the indicators are pointing to a long rather than a short presidency.
- Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.