NASHVILLE, Ind. — There have been three presidents with vivid Indiana ties. William Henry Harrison won the battle of Tippecanoe and served as a territorial governor. Abraham Lincoln moved to Spencer County as a boy within days of statehood in 1816 and became a man on the prairie, as poet Carl Sandberg writing that he gained his gait, demeanor and sense of spiritual place, particularly after he journeyed from the Ohio River to New Orleans and witnessed his first impressions of slavery.
Benjamin Harrison, grandson of the aforementioned ninth president, was born in Ohio, moved to Indianapolis in 1854, and after serving as a general in the Civil War, used a law career to enter the U.S. Senate before reaching the White House 1888.
There have been six Hoosiers who have served as vice president — Schuyler Colfax, Thomas Hendricks, Charles Fairbanks, Thomas R. Marshall, Dan Quayle and Mike Pence — the literal heartbeat away. Of this group, Marshall came closest to ascending to the presidency after President Woodrow Wilson suffered two strokes a century ago, though the First Lady hid the president’s condition from the former Indiana governor.
I recount this history so you might begin to wrap your mind around the prospect of “President Michael R. Pence.” Conventional wisdom would have been that this might not occur until 2025. But on Tuesday of this past week, Ambassador William B. Taylor. Jr., a West Point graduate, war veteran and career diplomat selected by President Trump last June as chargé d’affaires for Ukraine, gave bombshell testimony before three House committees.
In essence, Taylor confirmed what President Trump had been denying, though his acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney blatantly confirmed a week ago, the so-called “quid pro quo” between $400 million in stalled U.S. military aid to Ukraine in exchange for political dirt on Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden and a Long Beach, Ind., homeowner.
In an explosive 15-page opening statement, Taylor described communications with European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland: “During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” Taylor explained. “Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelenskyy was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelenskyy ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”
Trump would respond to Taylor’s testimony on Twitter, calling him a “never Trumper Republican” and “human scum.”
Why did this apparent extortion matter? Because the Ukraine is a vulnerable U.S. ally, attempting to fend off an invasion and occupation by Russian President Putin. It’s waged a war that has cost 13,000 lives.
Last June, Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he was open to foreign assistance in his reelection campaign, to which Federal Election Commission Chairman Ellen Weintraub responded: “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.“
So why should we ponder the sooner than later prospect of “President Pence?” Because impeachment has been established in the U.S. Constitution, but it is a political mechanism to remove a public servant who has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” That is deliberately vague, to be determined by the House for impeachment, and then the Senate for a trial, with Chief Justice John Roberts (ironically a Long Beach native) presiding.
Public opinion has everything to do with this. When the U.S Supreme Court ordered the release of the so-called “smoking gun” tape during President Nixon’s Watergate scandal in 1974, his public support in the polls collapsed, and so did his Republican backing in the U.S. Senate. Nixon resigned within hours.
Polling in support of the Trump impeachment inquiry and removal is far ahead of where it was for Presidents Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1999. Trump’s approval has been mired in the low 40% range for most of his presidency, and on Wednesday a Quinnipiac Poll revealed 55% approve the impeachment inquiry.
When the Daily Caller gauged the 55 Republican senators, only seven said they wouldn’t vote to convict Trump. Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham told Axios they will weigh impeachment if a crime was committed.
U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun were not among that group of seven. Both have been ardent supporters of Trump, and both are laying low. They are different than there 53 GOP colleagues, in that if Trump were to resign or be convicted, they would have a Hoosier president in Mike Pence.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote this past week, the situation is “fluid.” President Trump still has his core supporters, but many others inclined to support him are exhausted by the constant, self-inflicted drama. At some point, President Mike Pence might seem like a safe harbor for Republicans.