I have been planning today's post for at least a week and will stick to the plan, but some comments on the notorious anonymous New York Times op-ed that appeared yesterday will not be out of order. I definitely do not think, to begin with, that it was written by either of the administration's leading retired Generals, Chef of Staff John Kelly or Secretary of Defense James Mattis. While it certainly isn't unheard of for senior military officers to speak out, they do so publicly, not covertly. Nor do I think either of these men would have made the fulsome comments about Trump's domestic policies. The leading candidates, in my opinion, are Dan Coats and Nikki Haley. I will be amazed if the secret can be kept very long, and the firing of whoever it turns out to be will deepen the crisis for the White House. That in turn will raise the issue I now turn to: the issue of what drastic steps the President might take to save himself and his rule. President Trump is making more and more threats on social media, and I don't think we can rule out attempts to carry them out as he fights for his political life, and, possibly, his freedom. There are three possible steps that particularly alarm me.
The first is one that I expect him to attempt after Judge Kavanagh has been confirmed--and perhaps even before the midterms. That is the firing of Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, and their replacement by compliant stooges who will end Robert Mueller's investigation. Trump, both the Times op-ed and Bob Woodward's new book make clear, lives in a fantasy world, and really believes that the Mueller investigation is a deep state conspiracy against him. It threatens his presidency and his liberty. Don McGahn, the White House counsel who protected Mueller, is leaving the White House. I think Trump was persuaded not to try to fire Mueller earlier because McGahn was working so hard to secure the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy and his replacement by a second, crucial Supreme Court appointment. That will be done soon, and Trump and his more hard line aides might conclude that firing Mueller before the midterms might help energize his base, who have heard how important it is to fire Mueller every night for at least a year on Fox News.
A second campaign that seems already to be beginning is a concerted attack on voting rights, disguised as an attack on immigrant voter fraud. Yesterday it developed that the Justice Department has issued an extraordinary request for detailed voting records from the state of North Carolina, designed, it seems, to find evidence of large-scale voting by non-citizens. There is no evidence that such large-scale fraud has taken place, but this Administration is fully capable to trying to manufacture some, just as they are trying to strip citizenship from Hispanic-American citizens delivered by midwives in territory near the Mexican border. The one card that Republicans have not yet tried to play is one that I discussed here some years ago: an attempt to restore property qualifications for voting. There is no bar in our Constitution or laws against such qualifications, which states might impose as they did in the early decades of the Republic, and they would provide a way for red state Republicans to stave off the consequences of demographic change.
Lastly, the administration might take up the President's recent call for some kind of restrictions on social media designed to make sure that they give equal time to conservative outlets. Again, there is no real data, it turns out, to support the claim that google disfavors conservative outlets in news searches--a claim that found its way from a right wing publicist to Fox News, and then directly to the Trump twitter feed. Google favors the most popular sites, and mainstream media sites have a viewership that dwarfs Breitbart or even Fox. Trump has however committed himself to the idea that the mainstream media are conspiring against him and would obviously feel that steps to make his view of reality more popular would be justified.
Having listed these possible steps, I still don't think that the second and third are likely to go very far. They would be enormous undertakings requiring a cadre of dedicated apparatchiks to put into effect. The only such cadre that Trump seems to have at his disposal is ICE, which as I have said before is zealously carrying oiut his policy of ethnic cleansing against immigrants. In addition, we have seen no large-scale outbreak of violence on Trump's behalf, a major characteristic of the totalitarian movements of 80 years ago. I do not, however, expect Trump's presidency to go down without a fight, and I do think he has people around him who would favor measures like these. And that is why I, unlike many of my Facebook friends, do not hold it against Gens. Kelly and Mattis for remaining at their posts to try to ensure a minimum of reasonable governance, and why I respect the attempt of the Times's mysterious op-ed writer to sound the alarm and restart some discussion inside the Administration of the application of the 25th Amendment--a discussion which, he says, has already taken place. We will, I think, face some kind of serious constitutional crisis during the next two years.