I recently wrote an academic article on the 25th Amendment, which will be published in a few months, and while doing the research I was struck by a couple of things.
First, the wishful thinking during the first few months of Trump’s term about how he was about to or had actually just “become president,” by “pivoting” and becoming a completely different person than the one he had seemed to be when he was elected, was something to behold.
Second, almost nobody is familiar with the mechanics of the amendment, let alone the history of its genesis. Long story short: the drafters and ratifiers of the amendment intended to be a kind of all-purpose fail-safe mechanism, to deal with unforeseen as well as foreseen instances of presidential incapacity. They therefore intentionally left its terms wide open as to what would constitute a sufficient ground to employ the mechanisms by which the vice president declares himself the acting president, subject to subsequent ratification by Congress.
Basically, if the VP can get a majority of the cabinet to sign a letter declaring that the president is for whatever reason adjudged by them to be unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office, the VP becomes acting president at the moment this letter is transmitted to Congress — and, crucially, remains the acting president, unless Congress reverses that decision, by failing to ratify it by a two-thirds vote of both houses.
As you may have noticed, it’s quite possible that Donald Trump could be a lame duck president for fully two and half months, starting on November 4th of next year, until noon on the following January 20th.
This is for obvious reasons a terrifying prospect. Among the many crises that could arise as a result is a refusal on Trump’s part to acknowledge the legitimacy of the result if he loses (I would say the odds of this happening if he does in fact lose can be calculated as roughly 100%).
The question then becomes what happens next? Of course the Republican party as a whole could just go along with this refusal, and no doubt will if the election is anywhere as close as it was in, say, 2000, or 2004, or 2016. But suppose it’s not close at all — that it’s more of a 2008/2012 scenario. Then using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump could become a matter of self-preservation for various good party men, with the added bonus that there isn’t the slightest doubt that these good party men all loathe Trump personally with a visceral intensity, because everyone does.
Now I wouldn’t be terribly enthusiastic about living through 78 days of Acting President Pence, all the while praying that the vengeful God of the Hoosiers doesn’t send him a sign that it’s time to open the Seventh Seal. But it would be better than the alternative.
So I hope contingency plans are being made.
(I realize this in turn is all contingent on actually beating Trump by a solid margin, which needless to say is step one on the long road back toward political sanity — but I’ll say it anyway).