In the past, if Trump were to say the constitutionally prescribed impeachment process is a “coup," or that our allies will somehow uncover evidence contradicting the unanimous conclusion of U.S. intelligence officials that Russia interfered in our 2016 election the media might respond, “By coup, the president must really mean . . .” or "while most experts believe Russia interfered with the election . . .” Those days of contrived “balance” and deference to a corrupt president are gone.
Mainstream outlets have collectively decided that Trump is now a threat to democratic elections, so it is time to get serious and drop the pretense that there is a legitimate “side” (e.g., Ukraine has the DNC server! Asking China to interfere in our elections is fine, just fine!) whom Trump, Fox News and the Trump cultists represent.
As media organizations knock down the Potemkin village of normalcy they had erected around Trump, nearly all but the Trump dead-enders (e.g., Reps. Devin Nunes of California, Jim Jordan of Ohio) seem unwilling to defend Trump’s impeachable actions. They’ve either gently called him out, as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) did, or tried to pretend it did not happen (It was a joke! Just joking!). You are not getting a whole lot of Republicans willing to condone foreign countries picking our presidents.
One can conclude that Trump finally “went too far," but there are other factors at play that distinguish this situation from past crises.
For starters, Trump’s crazier-than-usual reaction (borne of panic) and utter lack of message coordination have left most Republicans unable to help him, even if they wanted to. When they are rather mute and the media won’t give equal time to crazy talk, the truth has a way of bubbling up.
Second, as we saw with the trade war and with the Kurds in Syria, the president’s awful and inept policy choices are coming home to roost. International chaos, a humiliating and disastrous sellout of the Kurds and an economic slowdown prompted by a trade war are really pushing Republicans to consider whether Trump’s survival is in their best interests.
Third, the commencement of formal impeachment proceedings certainly adds a level of gravity to events and has had a corresponding effect of wigging Trump out. The swift movement in the polls in support of impeachment seems to have stunned Republicans and has disabled their usual confidence that spin will save them.
Finally, there is the four-year election cycle. The realization that both the White House and the Senate could be lost is having a sobering effect on some Republicans. At the same time, it is also a daunting prospect to think about another five exhausting, mortifying years of this president.
In short, what may have seemed inconceivable just a couple of months ago — a not-zero chance Trump will not be on the ballot in 2020 — is the result of multiple factors. The media overestimated and contributed to the “facts don’t matter” canard, but now have stopped. The 2018 midterm elections provided Republicans with a hint of what may lie ahead, and the entire country seems disgusted with the crazy-man routine coming from the White House each day. Even Republican lawmakers seem weary of defending the indefensible.
It remains highly unlikely the Senate would vote to remove him, but resignation to avoid humiliation or a bipartisan but less than two-thirds majority votes to convict in the Senate (leaving Trump mortally wounded for 2020), for the first time in his presidency, seems possible. Yes, it is different this time.