Are Senate Republicans certain that Trump can return to office?

Forget the inconvenient remark by former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.) that 35 Republican senators would vote to remove Trump from office following his impeachment, if such a vote could be taken in private. There is another question that needs to be asked: Do Republican senators really think that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE can reclaim the presidency in 2020? 

Seriously, what is the Republicans' game plan for 2020, after Trump proves to be a nonviable candidate? 

More to the point, when Republican senators' names are called from the well of the Senate floor following a trial of this president, are those 45 gentlemen and eight ladies actually going to vote to acquit Trump? Forty-nine percent of Americans already — with only a smattering of evidence on record — believe he should be removed from office, with 58 percent supporting the ongoing impeachment investigation. 

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Based on the torrent of disclosure that already has seen the light of day through constitutional proceedings and press reports, and with all that is going on with the White House regularly, do these senators really think matters are going to improve from here?

As to the 20 Republican senators who will — unless he is removed from office beforehand — share the ticket with Trump for their own re-election in November 2020, do they really think they will be the beneficiaries of his coattails, or will it more likely be the tattered shreds of his presidency? 

Unless they are metaphysically certain of Trump’s popularity in the presidential election of 2020, they really need to cut the cord of support for the man or risk devastation to their own political careers.

With regard to the remaining 30 Republican senators up for election in 2022 and 2024, the political risks — whether Trump wins or loses — are somewhat attenuated. Do they really want to move on to their own elections labeled as supporting the first president ever to be removed from office, or the Republican Party’s own version of James Buchanan

As to the three who are retiring in 2021, I have a feeling I know what they would do with the freedom to vote their consciences.

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Now, of course, there is value to optionality. Until the situation comes more into focus, I can understand that some of them may wish to keep their alternatives open. Makes sense – after all, they may not even be called upon to make a choice. 

Alternatively, a “smoking howitzer” may be revealed (the smoking gun being already out there) that will give them all the cover they need to make the pivot to patriotism, which the vast majority may wish to be able to do right now.

But consider that the outrageous nature of the president’s behavior, already revealed, really raises the bar for what that smoking howitzer would have to contain. After a point, they would be waiting for a photograph of (to paraphrase one his predecessors) Trump kissing Putin’s behind in Macy’s window, something that is not particularly likely to be produced. If they wait too long, they will be devoid of a basis for switching positions, and clips of their Trump-veneration this late in the game will trail them to the end of their days.

Donald Trump has never in his presidency enjoyed the approval of even half of his countrymen. Today, his disapproval ratings appear to be edging up, as those who might have maintained some equanimity toward the president, without approving of him, head for the doors. Trump is running a negative approval in 12 of the 15 battleground states he won in 2016, running even in two and ahead in only one. 

And the president’s campaign style cannot possibly raise hopes of picking up additional support from those who already disapprove of him. Even the generally Trump-heavy betting parlors in the United Kingdom have him at 11-to-8. (Warren is at 9-to-4, and she doesn’t have her party’s nomination yet).

Continuing to wager on Donald Trump threatens to leave Senate Republicans with a bunch of worthless betting slips, and deep in the hole. The odds of this working out well for them are falling fast.  

Daniel Alpert is a senior fellow in financial macroeconomics and an adjunct professor of law of Cornell Law School, a fellow at the Century Foundation, and founding Managing Partner of the New York-based investment bank, Westwood Capital, LLC.