What if we did as the Brits do, and expected our presidents to resign?
Boris Johnson didn’t want to go. And why would he? He had what he called “the greatest job in the world.” That’s a debatable point, of course; I always thought another Brit, Paul McCartney, had the greatest job in the world, but this is not a time to quibble.
Johnson, as we all know by now, announced on Thursday that he would resign as prime minister of the United Kingdom after a whole bunch of his cabinet ministers and top aides said publicly that they had lost confidence in him and quit. More than 50 of them packed up and walked out in just the past few days, fed up with the many scandals that plagued Johnson and his conservative party. As the New York Times put it, “There were too many jobs vacant and too few loyalists to fill them.”
There’s a good chance you didn’t know this, but Boris Johnson is the third consecutive British prime minister to resign before the end of their term in recent years. Theresa May and David Cameron also quit before their terms had expired — and, believe it or not, the empire survived.
There are many things about the British that we can admire — their style, their grace, their accents, which make them sound smarter than a lot of them are. And there are some things British that we don’t really need to emulate — their food is one that immediately comes to mind.
But what if we, over on this side of the pond, had a political system sort of like theirs? A system whereby our presidents — our version of their prime ministers — would throw in the towel when they lose the confidence of their team and, more importantly, of the people they were elected to serve.
I’m not going to play coy here, so let’s get right to it: I have in mind our current president and the one who came right before him.
Republicans never had confidence in Joe Biden but now, if you believe the leaks to the press, even a lot of Democrats have had enough. It’s not sex scandals they’re concerned about, as it was finally in Johnson’s case; it’s Biden’s ability to lead the country, his competence and, yes, questions about his mental state.
What if a whole bunch of his “cabinet ministers” showed the same spunk as Boris Johnson’s top aides showed — and resigned? Would Joe say, as Boris said: “I know that there will be many people who are relieved and, perhaps, quite a few will also be disappointed. And I want you to know how sad I am to be getting out of the greatest job in the world, but them’s the breaks.”
Actually, he might say exactly that — if whoever’s pulling the strings from behind the curtain wrote it down in big type on a cue card that read: “Mr. President, YOU go out in front of those cameras and YOU read THIS.”
And how about his predecessor, Donald Trump? Is there the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell that he would resign over … well, over anything? No, there is not. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, when he heard that his old pal Boris resigned, Trump said, “What a loser!”
I mean, Donald didn’t seem fazed by being impeached — twice! You think he’d resign over a trivial matter like trying to overturn the election of a president who beat him? As Joe Biden might say, “Come on, man!”
But, if we had had something like the British system, Trump might not have had a choice. A simple no-confidence vote — no drawn-out impeachment trial — and they’d have dragged him kicking and screaming through the front doors of the White House and out the front gates. Just seeing that happen would have been enough for many Americans.
They may drive on the wrong side of the road over there, but they do have some good ideas. And being expected to resign from the top political job in the country, when your own team and much of the country you represent has lost confidence in your ability to lead, just may be one of those good ideas.
Of course, there’s a downside. Given how hyper-partisan we’ve become, given how we no longer have a “loyal opposition” but rather a “resistance,” there’s a good chance that every time a bunch of angry pols don’t like something our president has done, they’ll expect him to resign. As if we don’t have enough turmoil and chaos in government as is.
So, generally speaking, forcing our presidents out of office before their term is up would not be a good thing — although in the cases of Biden and Trump, I’m not so sure about that.
Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Substack page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.