It’s now clear that President Donald Trump cannot survive. Personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen’s blunt admission before a federal judge that candidate Trump directed him to commit an illegal act—paying and then covering up hush money—is just the beginning.
Cohen and former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who both face long prison terms, are likely to cooperate with the special counsel and provide further damaging information in exchange for recommendations of leniency that will come at their sentencing.
The revelations of Cohen and Manafort, both part of Trump’s inner circle, are plenty damaging. But they are just a warm-up for special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings on even more explosive matters: likely fraudulent behavior in Trump’s business dealings, which could include tax evasion; his collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 election; and his efforts to obstruct justice in undermining the special counsel.
Much of this has been hidden in plain view. Mueller will simply provide many more of the gory details.
For now, yesterday’s events have blown away Trump’s claim that Mueller’s investigation was a witch-hunt. Even Trump’s usual defenders have been halfhearted. By trying to retreat to what he takes to be the high ground—neither of these convictions demonstrated collusion with the Russians—Trump only sets himself up for a greater fall when the next round of detail comes.
In a harmonic convergence, the next shoe is likely to drop just in time for the November elections, in which Democrats are already favored to win back the House, and the Senate looks increasingly possible. What ensues in the coming days and weeks will follow a predictable scenario.
The alliance of convenience between Trump and House and Senate Republicans will begin to crack, as Republican leaders grasp the inevitability of Trump’s downfall. Some Republicans will conclude that Trump has to go, and that will further divide the party. Trump will become even more reckless and self-destructive.
There is a famous exchange in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises:
“How did you go bankrupt,” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
Political bankruptcies are like that. In the same way that bankrupt businesses keep juggling debt until one day nobody will advance them any more money, busted politicians find that the desertion of their allies can come with stunning abruptness.
Trump’s final fall could occur in a matter of weeks, or it could slop over into 2019.
I have been writing and saying for several months that Trump will not be the Republican nominee in 2020 because his presidency will end long before his scheduled term. Many of my colleagues, friends, and readers have skeptically indulged my naïve optimism. But that fate is now inevitable.
The end game could unfold in one of two ways. Democrats could take back the House, begin an impeachment, pile up overwhelming evidence of impeachable offenses, and put intolerable political pressure on Republican senators to vote to convict.
More likely, it seems to me, is that when the next round of Mueller’s findings of collusion with the Russians, longstanding business fraud, and obstruction of justice comes out, senior Republicans will decide that enough is enough and that it’s time to cut their losses.
Leaders will broker a deal in which Trump resigns in exchange for himself and members of his family being spared criminal conviction. Trump will take the deal. In the same way that the Nixon end game came abruptly when Republicans concluded that they could no longer defend him, Trump’s will come abruptly, too.
Looking back on the Republican affair with Trump, one appreciates the old saw that there is no honor among thieves. Trump ran for president as an anti-party figure, trashing Republicans one and all. Their expedient tolerance for his antics extended only as long as he was useful to them. Trump is no longer useful; he has become a liability, and there is little personal loyalty to him.
This was the week when history finally began to turn. Future historians will wonder why it took so long.