Trump has said he won’t be at the inauguration — but Democrats are hoping that by Jan. 20, he won’t even be president anymore. It’s Monday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi laid out a specific plan last night to seek President Trump’s removal from office. In a letter to colleagues, she said she would officially ask Vice President Mike Pence to use the 25th Amendment to strip Trump of his powers, while also moving ahead with bringing articles of impeachment in the House.
If Trump is impeached again, its impact could reach far into the future: It may affect his ability to run for office and dampen his legacy for those who have supported him. Or it may further feed their passion for him.
The next 10 days will be momentous for the whole nation, but for the G.O.P. in particular. The party is in chaos; as it gropes its way forward, here are three big factors that are likely to shape its direction.
The media equation
Last week, Twitter, the social media platform that played a huge role in fueling the president’s rise, permanently barred him. Facebook has barred Trump from its platforms, including Snapchat and YouTube, for the remainder of his term. But those moves don’t change the fact that social media companies, which are largely unregulated, continue to allow different groups of people to surround themselves with different sets of facts.
Trump came to power by exploiting the flawed incentives built into social media platforms: their promotion of outrage over reasoned discussion, their emphasis on personality over substance, and their unwillingness to monitor the information being shared.
Parler, the social media app favored by conservatives because of its lax approach to checking for accuracy, has now been removed from Google’s and Apple’s stores as well as Amazon’s web-hosting service, effectively making it unavailable. But the question remains of how much the larger companies themselves will be called upon to regulate the veracity of what’s shared: That could have a fundamental impact on the content that fact-bending news organizations can get away with disseminating.
Conservative commentators at networks like Newsmax have generally downplayed the uprising at the Capitol, or baselessly blamed false-flag antifa operatives. A PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll found that Republicans were evenly divided, 47 percent to 47 percent, between thinking that the rioters had broken the law and thinking that their actions were mostly legitimate.
The big money
Where major Republican donors decide to invest in the coming months will offer a major clue about where the G.O.P.’s energy is as it searches for an identity as the minority party in Washington.
Trump’s rise to the presidency was heavily fueled by the support of a few wealthy donors, but it also can’t be explained without the Tea Party revolt of 2009 and 2010. And that revolt can’t be explained without the influence of big money.
Still, for many Tea Party supporters, their real fervor came from something deeper — more related to their own economic position, and far more racialized. Starting in 2015, as President Barack Obama’s second term wound to a close, Trump was the figure who picked up on those anxieties, allowing the Tea Party to shake partly free of the corporate libertarianism that had birthed it.
As architects of the Tea Party, the Koch brothers ultimately grew worried about the beast they’d helped create, and their political network refused to support Trump’s re-election campaign. Charles Koch (whose brother David died in 2019) has indicated that he plans to look for common ground with Joe Biden where possible, but it seems likely that he will still work to uphold a lane for himself in the Republican Party.
Over the past four years, Trump has developed a relationship with scores of megadonors, including a number of billionaires who were firmly behind his re-election campaign. Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who single-handedly delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to Trump’s two campaigns, has stuck with the president, even when it meant putting up with personal slights.
That said, many business leaders have expressed alarm at the lengths to which Trump was willing to go to contest the election’s result, and they have called on him to acknowledge Biden’s victory. Only time will tell how willing Adelson and other Trump megadonors will be to support Trump’s handpicked candidates and causes in the years ahead.
In addition to the more clinical questions of how the media responds and where the money goes, there’s another important factor with a greater element of political mystery.
The Republican Party doesn’t yet have another charismatic national leader who has proved capable of capturing voters’ attention and speaking to them about the country in existentialist terms, as Trump does.
All politicians dream of crafting a message that captures the moment, and of developing a public persona that places them at the helm of a movement. If any of the party’s scions-in-waiting can do that, all other political calculations may become secondary.
If Trump manages to maintain his grip on Republican voters, even without his favorite social media outlet, then it’s unlikely that he will leave a lot of air in the room for another leader to rise. But if he was unable or unwilling to run again, he could be in a position to push a successor — be that a loyal political heir, like Senator Josh Hawley; or a member of his own family, like his firstborn son, Donald Trump Jr.; or his elder daughter, Ivanka Trump.
If Trump becomes more thoroughly discredited, and if the early years of the Biden presidency meet enough resistance from conservatives to erode Trump’s support among center-right and moderate voters, the party may embrace a leader that bucks the recent trends. Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who has been more willing than most other prominent Republicans to criticize the president, has openly mulled a 2024 presidential run.
Nikki Haley, who was Trump’s United Nations ambassador and has had a more checkered relationship with the president, might also have her eyes on a second presidential run in 2024.
In the run-up to the November election, pollsters for The Wall Street Journal and NBC News repeatedly asked Republican voters if their allegiance was more to their party or more to Trump himself. By the end of the campaign, a decisive majority of Republicans said they were more loyal to the president than to his party. So far, there is little evidence to suggest that has significantly changed — but it still could.
A heavy-duty security fence at the U.S. Capitol yesterday.
Democrats are under pressure in a different way: Their base wants to prosecute Trump.
President Trump faces an all but certain impeachment vote this week, but Democrats are aiming to pressure President-elect Joe Biden to see that his accountability doesn’t stop once he’s out of office.
As my colleague Lisa Lerer and I reported this weekend, the Biden administration will face significant pressure to begin criminal investigations into Trump, his family and his aides as soon as the inauguration is complete.
The appetite to do something about Trump is immense, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement last night that the House would press forward with impeachment if Mike Pence didn’t invoke the 25th Amendment. (Pelosi also said on Twitter that what the president did to incite the violence “should be prosecuted.”)
Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House majority whip, said earlier on Sunday that after voting on an article of impeachment as soon as Tuesday, the House might delay sending it to the Senate — which will not reconvene until the day before the inauguration, making it certain that Trump wouldn’t be removed by Congress before his term ends.
But whatever happens with impeachment, it is not going to be enough for a Democratic base that believes Trump and his allies colluded with Russia; engaged in tax fraud; imposed illegal pressure on state officials to change the results of the presidential election; used federal offices for political activity; and violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits a president from profiting from foreign governments.
Among other transgressions.
The word we heard over and over in interviews with more than 50 Democratic officials and activists was “accountability.” They said that letting Trump leave office without answering for the litany of illegal behavior he engaged in or oversaw would be an invitation for future presidents to act as far outside the law as they wish.
“You can’t heal the country if the kinds of wrongs that have been committed are never addressed,” said Howard Dean, who served as Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman.
The intensity of the desire to see Trump indicted by Biden’s Justice Department was clear hours after our article was published on Saturday. Matt Bennett, a founder of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, said on Thursday that he did not believe the Biden administration should prosecute Trump.
After he was quoted in our article, Bennett almost immediately faced the wrath of the Democratic base. By yesterday morning, he had released a lengthy statement endorsing a criminal prosecution of the president.
“He must face justice when he leaves office,” Bennett said. “If state or federal prosecutors find that he has committed criminal offenses, he should be prosecuted.”