NEW YORK (AP) — For three years, Donald Trump has unapologetically defied the conventions of the American presidency.
Yesterday, he comes face to face with the limits of his power, confronting an impeachment process enshrined in the Constitution that will play out in public and help shape how the president will be viewed by voters next year and in the history books for generations.
Trump accepted the Republican nomination, declaring that “I alone can fix” the nation’s problems.
Once elected, he set about reshaping the presidency, bending and dismantling institutions surrounding the 230-year-old office.
Now a parade of career public servants will raise their hands and swear an oath to the truth, not the presidency, representing an integral part of the system of checks and balances envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
“Trump can do away with the traditions and niceties of the office, but he can’t get away from the Constitution,” said Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian at Rice University.
“During Watergate, many people feared that if a president collapsed, America is broken. But the lesson of Nixon is that the Constitution is durable and the country can handle it.”
The Democrats will try to make the case that the president tried to extort a foreign nation, Ukraine, to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. But even if the House ultimately votes to make Trump only the third American president to be impeached, few expect the Republican-controlled Senate to eventually remove Trump from office.
“Even if re-elected, it’s a dark mark,” Brinkley said. “He does not get off scot-free. There is a penalty you pay.”
Trump enters the crucible of the public hearings largely alone — by his own design.
He has killed the White House daily press briefing, likes to make announcements himself on Twitter and prefers to get his message out during chaotic jousting sessions with reporters in the Oval Office or as he comes and goes to his presidential helicopter. He has railed against the lack of support from his staff and Republicans on Capitol Hill, insisting that they stop limiting their complaints to the impeachment process and start defending his actions, a request that has unsettled some Republicans trying to get a handle on ever-shifting explanations coming from the White House.
Although a number of the president’s advisers believe that impeachment could be a political winner for Trump on the campaign trail next year, the President has reacted angrily to the probe. He defends his summer phone call with Ukraine’s leader, which is at the heart of the inquiry, as “perfect” while deriding the impeachment effort as a conspiracy among Democrats and the “deep state.”
Some help is on the way. The White House bolstered its communications team by hiring former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Treasury spokesman Tony Sayegh. But Bondi and Sayegh may not be in place before the hearings, owing to paperwork associated with entering White House employment, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
The Republican National Committee will be lining up supporters to publicly defend the president, including a conference call for regional reporters with presidential son Eric Trump that is aimed at putting pressure on vulnerable House Democrats.