LAWRENCE MARTIN, PUBLIC AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: THE GLOBE AND MAIL|AIWA! NO!| The politically fractious holidays in Washington saw the departure of Defense Secretary James Mattis, who followed the departure of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who followed the departure of Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.
Mr. Mattis, who had performed capably, was now canonized by the media who engaged in another furious round of Trump-bashing. Or, as author and commentator Conrad Black colourfully put it, an “oceanic heaving of obloquy on the President.”
Washington was aghast – and not only about Mr. Mattis. The government, or at least a big part of it, shut down. Mad Dog Trump wasn’t bluffing this time. He carried out his threat. No wall, no work.
Washington, not to mention much of the country, was aghast again. Would the unravelling ever stop? Would Republican lawmakers ever do something about their mad king? Would they stop letting Nero be Nero?
But to show that all was well with the armed forces and that he was the man in command, and that Mr. Mattis, like Meryl Streep, was overrated, the President journeyed to visit the U.S. troops in Iraq. They toasted him.
Crisis? What crisis? Donald Trump was making it look like a victory lap.
“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” he declared, aiming his lunch-bucket prose at the elites who went into paroxysms over his withdrawal of all of 2,200 troops – enough to fill almost half the end zone at a football game – from Syria.
“The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” Mr. Trump harrumphed. “If we see something happening with ISIS [Islamic State] that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard … they really won’t know what the hell happened.”
Meanwhile the stock market, which had been in a terrible tailspin, rebounded spectacularly, if only for a day. The “oceanic heaving of obloquy” was put on pause, if only for a day.
But as for the new year, the outlook from the punditocracy is sour. Though Mr. Trump has been able to make his way out of every sinkhole he’s ever been in, the prevailing wisdom is “good luck this time.”
A half-dozen possible scenarios present themselves. We’ll start with his worst, a public hanging. It foresees the Democrats having enough ammunition with the findings of the Robert Mueller probe to launch impeachment proceedings. To succeed they would need a two-thirds majority in the Senate. That would require about 20 Republicans deserting Mr. Trump. But if his support level, low to begin with, is falling, such a number could well conclude they cannot win with him and join hands with the Democrats to bring him down. Hello, President Pence.
That’s one extreme scenario. Another is a Trump makeover. New chief of staff Mark Mulvaney, who has more political smarts than the outgoing John Kelly, convinces the President that he can’t win by constantly pandering to his narrowing nativist base. Mr. Trump, who has never shown himself capable of pulling in his horns, does so. His number of dumbo eruptions is reduced by half. He gets a deal with China. The economy holds. Mr. Mueller’s findings aren’t crippling. The President nudges up in the polls, positioning himself for a possible triumph in 2020.
A third potential outcome sees an escalation of the current chaos, dysfunction, scandals, and a President as unhinged as ever. But Republicans cower. They see that his fiercely loyal base, though shrinking somewhat, is still with him. They refuse to challenge him. They march with him toward oblivion.
Scenario four is the great schism. The Grand Old Party finds itself so embittered at having become the Trump Party that it splits. Rebels backed by the best minds on the right form a new conservative party. They realize the split will ensure an election of the Democrats but reason that defeat is inevitable anyway.
Upshot number five finds Mr. Trump in a legal nightmare, facing charges for which he is clearly culpable. There is only one escape. He cuts a deal to hand over the presidency to his Vice-President in exchange for a pardon.
A sixth possible denouement may well be the most likely. Mr. Trump’s year unfolds badly. It’s hell on wheels. Disgusted Republicans decide they can’t win with him, but they don’t want to go to such extremes as impeachment.
Instead they mount a different form of mutiny. They mount a strong internal challenge in the primaries. The party flocks to his opponent. A ferocious primary fight ensues. The mad king is toppled.