Since 2015, we have been worrying about how much danger Donald Trump posed to democracy. Now, with the impeachment inquiry moving forward, a new question is rapidly gaining relevance: How and when will President Trump leave the White House?
When I asked David Leege, professor of political science emeritus at Notre Dame, about political developments in the near future, his response surprised me. After noting that I had not posed the most important question, he added:
We should not assume that either a 2020 election defeat or impeachment/conviction will remove Trump from the White House.
Both before Trump was elected in 2016 and during his term, he has made frequent references to “my 2nd Amendment friends”’ and increasingly the “patriots” who constitute the military.
Before you decide that this is paranoia, let me point out that Leege is an eminently reasonable scholar, a former chair of the board of overseers of the American National Election Studies and one of the founders of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. He has been a valued source of mine for years.
“The country is armed to the hilt,” Leege wrote:
As president, Trump has resisted any effort to curb citizen access to guns and ammo. He puts on a modest show of concern when a particularly bad gun massacre occurs but, in the end, he sees armed citizens as a significant personal asset.
Leege went on to speculate about what might happen in the worst of circumstances:
I think the legal profession, finance, and corporate business would resist Trump’s efforts toward a coup. They need stability to make profits. Perhaps the biggest question concerns the military. Coups are usually backstopped by colonels, not generals. Thus, major barracks could provide him with support. Probably his best strategy to keep all levels of the military loyal to him rather than to the Constitution would be to embroil us in a major war.
Should push come to shove, the pivotal group, in Leege’s view,
is and always has been Republican United States Senators. If enough of them, spread across the country and in the South, see advantage in supporting the Constitution instead of their personal and party’s advantage, they would desert Trump either through conviction on impeachment articles or through the 2020 election.