As President Trump nears his first 100 days in office next week, I called the professor who predicted Trump’s win and has accurately forecast the outcome of every U.S. election since 1984 to ask him whether he still believes in his other famous forecast — that Trump will be impeached.
Allan Lichtman, a distinguished professor of history at American University, had forecast that Trump would be impeached since months before last year’s elections, and has now published a book titled “The Case for Impeachment.”
I was curious whether Trump’s latest policy reversals from some of his most outlandish populist stands will diminish the chance of an impeachment. Lichtman conceded to me that, over the past week, Trump has “changed for the better,” although he added that it’s unclear how long that will last.
In recent days, Trump has walked away from his love affair with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has reversed his previous claims that China was a currency manipulator and made a 180-degree turn on his previous claims that NATO was obsolete and that the U.S. Export-Import Bank should be closed.
“There’s no question that Donald Trump has very much changed from the Trump of the campaign,” Lichtman told me. “Two things have happened. No. 1, the real world has a way of getting its grip upon you. You have to adjust. And, No. 2, he really seems to have greatly revised his staff of advisers, and does seem to be influenced more by the most stable generals.”
Lichtman cited the forced departure of Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the reported fall from grace of White House chief political strategist and right wing ideologue Stephen Bannon.
“The big question is whether this is enduring or not,” Lichtman said. “The thing that makes Donald Trump’s presidency so dangerous is that, like Richard Nixon, he doesn’t have fundamental guiding principles. The only thing that seems to have driven him throughout his career is what’s good for Donald Trump.”
Asked about his 2016 prediction that Trump will be impeached, Lichtman told me that “Donald Trump is the president most vulnerable to impeachment among all first-time elected American presidents.”
There are eight separate grounds for impeachment, including the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia at a time when Russia was waging cyber attacks against the Hillary Clinton campaign, and the president’s massive conflicts of interest, he said.
When I noted that a Trump impeachment would be extremely difficult, because Republicans have a comfortable control of the House, Lichtman said, “Trump might cross the line leading to impeachment. Even a Republican Congress might be willing to impeach Donald Trump if he becomes a liability to them.”
“Remember, every member of the House has to face re-election in 2018,” Lichtman said. “And remember as well, Republicans love (Vice President) Mike Pence. Trump is a loose cannon. Mike Pence is a predictable, down-the-line conservative.”
Lichtman concluded, “A lot is going to depend on the outcome of the investigations on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. This borders on treason.”
If the investigations find that Trump knew anything about this, he added, “It will be very difficult for him to avoid impeachment.”
My opinion: Trump’s latest isolated steps away from his nationalist populist agenda may be due to the fact that he is listening more to the generals, or to his children, or because he may be trying to divert attention from the Russia investigations and avert an impeachment down the road.
In his first weeks in office, Trump has often come across as the most erratic, improvised and incompetent president in recent U.S. history.
He may have decided to make some changes after his failures to pass key campaign promises such as the repeal of Obamacare and after seeing his poll numbers fall. His children may have convinced him that he risked being stuck with the label of “loser” and that the Trump business brand would risk serious damage.
And he may have been informed that impeachments are a political — more than a legal — phenomenon. Unless he changes for good, and I have my doubts that he will, nobody can rule out that he may cross the line leading to impeachment, and that Lichtman’s latest prophesy could come true.
Andres Oppenheimer is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may email him at email@example.com.