Slippery Slope

Donald Trump’s Paths All Lead Down

Here are four things the president capable of anything could very well do as the walls close in on him.


Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

The president is a caged and cornered animal.

Forget his statement about how “I look forward to this matter concluding quickly,” and know that he has to be livid about the appointment of Robert Mueller as special prosecutor, in the middle of a week when he’s already bouncing off the walls. People are talking impeachment and 25th Amendment scenarios seriously now. I still remember clearly the hour when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, and ABC’s Sam Donaldson said “this presidency could be numbered in days.” We’re probably not at that point yet, but a couple more of these bombshells, and we could easily be talking weeks.

Trump will not just take this. He’ll do… something. And can anyone now doubt that that something could be anything? There is no act he isn’t capable of. Here are four scenarios.

1. He tries to start a war. Obvious, hoary, cliched, yes; but Trump himself is all of those things in spades. North Korea is the first choice of a target, maybe ISIS. It’s a surefire way to get the press and the other losers off his back and get the country to rally to his side.

No, actually, it’s not. No one outside Republicans will rally to him in an obvious Wag the Dog situation. And then there’s this to think about: Would the generals carry out his orders under such a circumstance? If it were obvious that Trump was just doing this for political reasons, they would not. To go back to 1998 again, everybody laughed at Bill Clinton when he ordered a bombing raid on Iraq the very night the House voted articles of impeachment against him. But I think most people now accept that Pentagon brass would never, ever approve a military action ordered by a president to save his political skin. They’d quit first.

Or—Trump would fire them all and replace them with weak lackeys who would do his bidding. Then we’d have an unquestionable constitutional crisis on our hands. Not implausible at all.

2. He tries to destroy everyone around him. If there’s one thing immoral businessmen are really good at, it’s getting dirt on the people they need to do business with just in case it comes in handy someday. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump has something on a lot of people, from Steve Bannon to Paul Ryan and who knows who else. And, of course, if he doesn’t have anything, we’ve seen repeatedly that he will just make it up.

No one in his orbit is safe from this. Ivanka, I suppose. But not Jared, and not anyone else. If I’m going down, he will surely think, I’m taking some other folks down with me. People who crossed him. People who insulted him. People he caught snickering when they saw him put ketchup on his steak.

The Trump stink gets on everyone who comes into contact with him. He sees to that, and he will certainly see to that here.

3. He incites street violence. When the chips are down, he turns to his people. So if he sinks down in the polls and the swamp really starts draining him, he’ll hit the road and have more campaign-style rallies.

And he’ll work his people into a rage. And he’ll say something akin to that statement about the Second Amendment people doing something about Hillary Clinton; you remember that one. But it will be about taking, oh, “extreme action” to protect the will of the people, which it really wasn’t since he lost by 3 million votes, but as we know he and his people believe that that was only because of voter fraud. These people, by the way, if they watch Fox and listen to talk radio and read right-wing websites, believe that all this talk of obstruction of justice is a smear campaign.

And something will circulate online about taking up arms, and Trump brigades will form, and he’ll finally have his very own private thug army.

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4. He quits. I could see this, too. I can hear it:

“Look. I did my job. I kept Crooked Hillary out of the White House. Gorsuch. I did Gorsuch. Quality guy. People say he’s the best choice like ever, OK? I did a lot of things, beautiful things. But the press is so unfair. So unfair. And a lot of the people, frankly, I must tell you: mediocre. I’ve been surprised. I mean, they’re fine. But it’s mediocre. The culture. That’s one thing Trump can’t take, a mediocre culture. And disloyalty. People are so disloyal. So look, I had a great life. I go back to my life.”

A long shot, I admit. But not impossible. Remember when he said this or that was going to be “so easy, folks,” and there was going to be so much winning we’d get “tired of winning”? He actually believed that. He thought being president of the United States was going to be easy. He must hate the job.

You are probably saying he’d never do it because he’d go down as one of history’s biggest losers. What I’m saying is, he can work his way toward a rationalization of that if he needs to, where he still comes out in his mind the winner. Hence the “mediocre people” riff above.

Now: None of these might happen. He, and we, might just slog along until Mueller finishes his work, or until the Democrats take back the House in 2018 if they do. But the point is this: Every one of these things—war, constitutional crisis, presidential smear campaign, spontaneous raising of a street-fighting army—could happen. No person who’s paid any attention to this man over the last two years can deny it.

And that fact tells us that the republic is in danger as long as this man is the president.