LET US SAY, for sake of argument, that the impending FBI indictments against members of Donald Trump’s campaign are enough to make his impeachment an inevitability. Further, let’s assume that Vice President Mike Pence is also implicated, as well as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. What would happen?
Thanks to both wishful thinking inspired by Trump’s rank awfulness, as well as shows like Designated Survivor and Battlestar Galactica that play on the idea, the presidential line of succession is now well known: First the VP, then the Speaker, then the Senate president pro tempore, then the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Defense. The current order is Pence, Ryan, Orrin Hatch, and so on.
Here’s the thing, though: the line of succession only holds if everyone ahead on the list is eliminated at the same time. Given the deliberate pace of the Trump/Russia investigation, that is unlikely to happen here (unless the North Koreans are faking it with their lousy missile-guidance tech). On the contrary, when the shit hits the fan, Trump and his collaborators would presumably have some time, a few weeks certainly, to get their ducks in a row before the house of cards collapsed (if I may deploy the full day’s quota of cliches).
This is what I think would happen, in that case:
(1.) Once the (Cyrillic) writing on the wall became undeniable, Trump would pardon Pence and Ryan (and everyone else, probably) and then resign, blaming Obama and FAKE NEWS and the First Amendment for his woes. (When he shamelessly pardons his odious daughter and his son-in-law, perhaps the somnambulant GOP/MSM will get woke to the egregious extent of the corruption here.)
(2.) Ryan would immediately resign as Speaker.
(3.) The newly-pardoned Pence would be sworn in, only to break William Henry Harrison’s record for shortest presidential term of all time.
(4.) The House would elect a new Speaker. As we learned during John Boehner’s ouster, the Speaker of the House need not be a member of Congress. Our representatives would select a “consensus candidate,” such as John Kasich, Mitt Romney, Evan McMullin, or Condi Rice—a conservative who wasn’t actively evil, basically—as Speaker of the House…and thus, crucially, next in line to become president, when…
(5.) Pence would resign, ceding the presidency to this new dark-horse Speaker, who would serve out the rest of Trump’s term. This individual would enjoy astonishingly high approval ratings just by dint of not being a Trump-tainted Russian-compromised traitor, and would immediately unite the country.
In a simpler variation of the same idea, Pence could name the consensus candidate his VP and resign once he or she was confirmed by the Senate. Recall that Gerald Ford was not elected, but replaced the disgraced Spiro Agnew, so this is not without precedent.
Louise Mensch has wisely proposed that, should Orrin Hatch become president (as the third in line currently), he select Hillary Clinton as his vice president and resign in 2018, awarding her half a four-year term for having been the victim of election-hacking:
President Hatch could fix this. He could nominate @HillaryClinton as VP and resign two years into his term proving America unites in war
— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) April 23, 2017
This is a lovely idea, but the GOP as currently constituted is incapable of such gallantry. Nor is there any other way for HRC to achieve the White House, even if the research led by Mike Farb at unhackthevote.com shows that the election results in the various swing states were, in fact, doctored. There simply is no mechanism in the Constitution for a do-over, even if the election were itself compromised.
The best we can hope for, I think, is President To-be-named-later. But this is better than any of the currently available options. Sometimes the grass on the other side really is greener—and free of snakes.