On Ross Douthat and the 25th Amendment

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Ross Douthat raises the possibility of removing President Trump from office via the 25th Amendment. In Douthat’s view, this may be necessary on the grounds of presidential incapacity:

The Trump situation is not exactly the sort that the amendment’s Cold War-era designers were envisioning. He has not endured an assassination attempt or suffered a stroke or fallen prey to Alzheimer’s. But his incapacity to really govern, to truly execute the serious duties that fall to him to carry out, is nevertheless testified to daily — not by his enemies or external critics, but by precisely the men and women whom the Constitution asks to stand in judgment on him, the men and women who serve around him in the White House and the cabinet.

Indeed, Douthat proposes at one point that not following this course may be an act of “gross negligence”:

Meanwhile, from the perspective of the Republican leadership’s duty to their country, and indeed to the world that our imperium bestrides, leaving a man this witless and unmastered in an office with these powers and responsibilities is an act of gross negligence, which no objective on the near-term political horizon seems remotely significant enough to justify.

He concludes that the Republican party will not necessarily suffer more from taking the plunge than by declining to:

This will not get better. It could easily get worse. And as hard and controversial as a 25th Amendment remedy would be, there are ways in which Trump’s removal today should be less painful for conservatives than abandoning him in the campaign would have been — since Hillary Clinton will not be retroactively elected if Trump is removed, nor will Neil Gorsuch be unseated. Any cost to Republicans will be counted in internal divisions and future primary challenges, not in immediate policy defeats.

As always Douthat is worth reading. But I think that missing from his piece is a serious attempt to grapple with just how much of a psychic shock such a move would inflict upon this country — especially on those voters who backed and liked Donald Trump. David Frum wrote just a few minutes after the Comey firing that the president had staged “a coup.” Well, what would this — an actual coup — represent? And how would that look to the people who would believe that Trump had been removed by the very elites he had set out to vanquish?

I have for a long while believed that Trump is unfit for office, and, as such, I do not disagree with all — or even most — of Douthat’s characterizations. In addition, I continue to think that this president is his own worst enemy: The press is hostile, yes, but Trump seems utterly hellbent on making things difficult for himself. Nevertheless, at this point in American history — a point at which large numbers of voters in both parties believe that the system is “rigged” — for the president to be undone by a small group of establishment Republicans and replaced with a career politician would be disastrous for the culture. If it turns out that Trump has done something terrible while in office, he should be impeached by the usual process. If he finds that he no longer likes or wants the job, he should resign. But a legalized coup on the nebulous grounds of “witlessness” would be an invitation for discord the likes of which we have not seen in a while. 

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