Commentary: Why Trump won't be ousted anytime soon

Count me among those who suspect that Donald Trump is unlikely to last all four years in office. He can shake up his staff all he wants and fire Reince Priebus and all the rest of them. But none of that will do anything to fix the central problem of the Trump presidency – Donald Trump himself.

Some sort of crisis like the one we see now was inevitable, and easy enough to predict. This is just who Trump is, and as Ross Douthat wrote recently, he does not surprise. We know he will keep doing things that get him in trouble because that's what his personality and temperament dictate. At some point, it's a fairly safe bet that his missteps and the reactions to those missteps will drive him from office, particularly now that we have a special counsel with very broad jurisdiction sniffing around. To paraphrase Nixon adviser Herb Stein, what cannot continue, won't.

But that moment of reckoning has not yet arrived. Trump is bloodied, but he's not bleeding out. A Republican Congress is unlikely to ever impeach him; only two presidents have been impeached, and it was only when the opposing party was in charge of both chambers. Republican legislators tend to come from areas that voted overwhelmingly for Trump just months ago, meaning that even if GOP lawmakers determine that the president needs to be removed, they'll still have to pitch that to their Republican constituents back home. That will be no easy feat.

Other ways of removing Trump from office, such as through the 25th Amendment, are unlikely to be attempted at any point. It's an extraordinary difficult process by deliberate design, and would rely in large part on Mike Pence not only deciding that Trump is unfit for office, but that he has the political capital to successfully replace him. There's a tiny chance that that time might come, but we're still some ways off.

It's also important to realize that the media environment all but forbids anything as direct as impeachment or constitutional removal from office. The bulk of the conservative media still has Trump's back, and shows few signs of wavering. Perhaps when Fox News hosts start calling for Trump's removal from office, we might be approaching the time when more Republican lawmakers will deem it safe to start openly toying with the idea.

Again, that's a long way off. The president is in many ways a beneficiary of the larger epistemological crisis in this country; when he has a tough few weeks, there is a not-insignificant portion of his base that will always dismiss any allegations against him as fictions invented by his enemies. Given the media's current reliance on anonymous sources, this is an easier sell than some more sophisticated observers might think.

A Democratic Congress would obviously be more inclined to impeach Trump. But the earliest we would get one of those is 2018, and that's no sure thing. Even as the Republican brand takes a pummeling, it's far from certain that Democrats can even win any of the upcoming special elections this year. The Democratic base may be energized, but for four elections straight voters have said they don't really want Nancy Pelosi to be speaker of the House. That could change, but it might not. 

Capturing the Senate will be even tougher, even though the margin is tighter. As of now, it seems Democrats only have a solid chance of flipping two seats. They need to win three in a map that strongly favors the GOP to gain a majority. 

But let's say the Democrats do take Congress in 2018 and immediately begin impeachment proceedings. Even then, removal from office would be an exceptionally difficult undertaking. Proving something like obstruction of justice is no simple thing, and would likely require Trump critics in Congress to prove that the president acted with criminal intent.

In such a scenario, Trump's defenders could plausibly claim the president is too ignorant of the law to ever posses such intent. And the president's enemies wouldn't be able to push Trump out with a simple majority either; two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote for him to be convicted, and that means quite a few Senators will have to go along with it. 

It's also worth remembering that no president has been removed from office via impeachment, though if Richard Nixon had stuck around, he could have been the first.

So perhaps Trump resigns, like Nixon did? Maybe. But our 37th president was a very different man than the 45th. Nixon was a lot of things, but he was also a patriot, and often demonstrated the kind of personal restraint that has since fallen out of fashion. He decided, in part, that the cost to the country of him staying in office was simply too high. It is hard to imagine Trump ever making a similar calculation.

If the last five months are any indication, Trump may still wind up his administration early. Everything about it feels unsustainable, and the central reason it feels that way is Trump. But if you were hoping Trump leaves any time soon, chances are you're in for a disappointment. 

  • Will Rahn

    Will Rahn is a political correspondent and managing director, politics, for CBS News Digital.