Allan Lichtman, the American University star professor who predicted – contrary to virtually all polls – that Donald Trump would win this year’s elections, is now making another daring forecast: that Trump will be impeached.
Lichtman, who has accurately predicted almost every election since 1984, says that he based his prediction that Trump would win on a 13-question statistical method. The questions deal with “big picture” issues, such as how the economy is doing, and don’t even consider the polls. The polls are just “snapshots” of reality at a given moment, which are useless to predict the result on Election Day, he says.
Curious about his daring forecasts, I interviewed him about how he foresees a Trump presidency. Lichtman told me that, unlike his prediction of Trump’s victory, which was based on a statistical analysis, his forecast about an impeachment “is just based on my gut.” But he immediately added that there are two reasons why the idea of an impeachment is not too far-fetched.
“No. 1, Trump has played fast and loose with the law all of his life,” Lichtman said. He cited Trump’s dubious use of his charity to buy things for himself and to settle business debts, his companies’ exploratory business moves in Cuba in possible violation of the U.S. embargo, the trial against Trump University, the more than a dozen women who have said they were sexually assaulted by Trump, and the fact that his children are likely to continue managing his business empire, which could lead to all kinds of conflicts of interest.
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“Secondly, Trump is a loose cannon. He’s unpredictable. He’s uncontrollable,” Lichtman went on. “And Republicans love control. They are worried about Donald Trump, but they love (Vice President-elect) Mike Pence, because he is a down-the-line, predictable, straight-forward Christian conservative Republican.
“So while an impeachment is difficult, it’s certainly a possibility under president Trump,” Lichtman said. “Let’s not forget that it was a civil lawsuit by Paula Jones alleging sexual harassment that opened the door to the impeachment of Bill Clinton.”
Asked what worries him the most about Trump, Lichtman told me that it’s “people like Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart chief, being put into the administration. At Breitbart, Bannon sponsored material that was racist, white supremacist, anti-Semitic and misogynist in the extreme.”
Lichtman noted that Trump very recently repudiated some white supremacist groups, “but he spent over a year stirring up the white nationalists, the neo-Nazis, the anti-Semites. They have cheered his campaign.”
“I am Jewish American, I have written about these issues … and this is how these things start, the persecution, the discrimination. They start in a small way, and they can mushroom and grow out of control,” he said.
“And the other thing that worries me is Trump’s propensity to be an authoritarian, his admiration for a foreign dictator like Vladimir Putin. It really frightens me, not so much his policies, but his authoritarian streak,” Lichtman concluded.
My opinion: I’m skeptical that Trump will be impeached, at least for now, mainly because his Republican Party controls the two Houses of Congress.
An impeachment has to be approved by a majority in the House, and then goes to the Senate, which conducts an investigation and needs two-thirds of the votes to get a conviction. Two U.S. presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned during an impeachment process.
No. 1, Trump has played fast and loose with the law all of his life.
American University Professor Allan Lichtman
But Lichtman made me think twice about the likelihood of an impeachment when he said that Trump is a loose cannon, a man who sincerely believes he knows more than the generals, who is used to bossing people around since he was a young man, who inherited a fortune from his father, and who is not going to change at age 70.
If Trump is smart enough to allow his closest aides to rein him in and keep him from becoming an unpredictable elected tyrant who believes that he’s above the law, he is unlikely to be impeached. But if Trump, the president, behaves like Trump, the candidate, anything is possible.
Let’s hope he does the first.
Andres Oppenheimer is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org