You’ll never guess who wants to rain on the progressive La Resistance parade, although he’s known for his frequent and usually unwelcome buttings-in. “You know, I have confidence in the American system of government,” former president Jimmy Carter told CBS Sunday Morning host Jane Pauley in an interview aired yesterday morning. Not only does Carter think impeachment would be a mistake, he tells Pauley that he believes Trump “wants to do a good job,” and that he’s willing to help.
This does come with one caveat, of course:
“I think ultimately the restraints on a president from the Congress and from the Supreme Court will be adequate to protect our nation, if he serves a full term.
“And I think he will serve a full term unless the special investigator, Mr. Mueller, brings some criminal charges against him.”
“What do you think the odds of that are?” asked Pauley.
“I don’t have any idea,” Mr. Carter replied.
That caveat obviously applies, and not just with Democrats, although it depends on what the criminal charges might be and how far they stray from the central issue in Mueller’s assignment. If Mueller tries prosecuting Trump over tax issues unrelated to the campaign, for instance, Republicans would accuse Mueller of straying far past his brief and would likely circle wagons around the president. If Mueller charges Trump with obstruction on the core collusion investigation and produces convincing evidence of such — which seems unlikely at this point, but possible — then some Republicans in the House and Senate might be amenable to the start of a President Mike Pence administration. One way to avoid that, of course, is to keep Trump from chatting with Mueller and his deputies, but that seems to be a forlorn hope for Trump’s attorneys.
Carter offers an ironic argument in its own way. Donald Trump won election in no small part because of distrust in the very institutions on which Carter argues we should rely, and not just among Republicans. The Bernie Sanders campaign should have been a fringe aberrance, a historical oddity, but the Left has become saturated with a deep distrust of American institutions, too, although their preferred solution is to make them more powerful.
One point to remember on this is that Trump has abided by those constraints, too. When the courts shot down his travel “bans,” Trump complied with court orders — loudly complaining, of course, but still complying. He has not shut down DACA despite it being within his executive-action purview to do so either, complying with two court orders to keep it in operation for current enrollees. He’s signed every piece of legislation passed by Congress so far, not even opting for a veto on the spending bill (which is itself, of course, a legitimate exercise of presidential authority). He has not dismantled ObamaCare by edict.
Trump may have a loud mouth but he has operated within the confines of the legitimate and limited powers of his office, and there’s no reason to think that will change. Trump stokes chaos in other ways, but he’s been careful to remain within the law and within the checks and balances that Carter describes here.
Finally, although progressive La Resistance activists might chafe at Carter’s advice, it’s probably being welcomed by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer with a smile. The last thing they need in the midterms is for the issue of impeachment to become front and center of the national campaign, which would stoke enthusiasm among Trump’s voters to turn out for the election. They want to use Carter’s argument that a Democratic majority in the House would be a natural check on Trump’s impulses, not a setup for a constitutional crisis. Whether voters actually believe that is another matter. How much restraint, to use Carter’s words, would a Democratic majority in the House exhibit in the next session of Congress? We’re more likely than not to find out.
One more word of advice for President Trump, though. Don’t take Jimmy Carter up on his offer. You can ask Bill Clinton how well that worked for him.