Political analyst Norm Ornstein, speaking to the Akron Press Club on Friday, said it’s “a little more likely than not” that President Donald Trump won’t serve out his term.

In an interview following his talk, Ornstein, a Trump critic, said “we have no clue how all of this plays out,” referring to special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of possible collusion between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign.

Ornstein, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., said we’re in a more polarized political environment than when President Richard Nixon faced likely impeachment. Republican congressional leaders persuaded Nixon to resign in 1974, telling him his political support was collapsing.

GOP leaders then were “honest and not tribal,” Ornstein said. Without wading into specifics of the Mueller probe, he spoke about the choices Trump and Congress would face if investigators' conclusions imperil the president.

We’re “in uncharted territory,” Ornstein told those gathered for the luncheon at Quaker Station in downtown Akron. The event drew about 100 people.

Ornstein’s Press Club talk was part of a symposium at the University of Akron law school on Friday that examined the 25th Amendment and its provision — which has never been invoked — for the vice president and cabinet to remove a president from office if they deem the president unable to “discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

A seminar panel included John D. Feerick, who helped draft the 25th Amendment. Feerick is a dean emeritus of the law school at Fordham University in New York City.

As for talk about invoking that 25th Amendment provision, Ornstein said Friday, “My own view on that is it’s actually a tougher battle than impeachment is.”

The problem with today's political process is not all about Trump, said Ornstein, co-author of “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not Yet Deported.”

Ornstein said those who believe “we can breathe that sigh of relief” if Trump goes are not aware of the “tribal and sectarian conflict that is not going away — but is only deepening — across many divides.”

Today’s political tribalism has roots in the election of Newt Gingrich in the late 1970s to the U.S. House, Ornstein said. Gingrich had a plan to regain Republican control of the House by creating tribal divisions that would convince Americans that Congress was “disgusting, and evil and bad" and lead voters to say, “We don’t care who the incumbents are … throw 'em out and bring the outs in.”

Gingrich, a key figure in the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, radicalized Republicans who had been comfortable working with Democrats "even though they were the minority,” Ornstein said. And Gingrich caused Democrats, who had grown “complacent, arrogant, patronizing” in the majority to “to overreact.”

The rise of “tribal media” after the Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1987 also paved the way for political polarization, Ornstein said. The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses to present “honest, equitable, and balanced” programming.

“What started in Washington metastasized out to the states — and now to the public as a whole — and now we’re driven by negative partisanship,” Ornstein said.

He said triage is needed to keep the tribalism from "careening completely out of control."

"We need to try as best we can to create a different media environment," Ornstein said. "I think we need to do more with public media, and we need to find ways to subsidize public media to create a different kind of  discourse."

He said he's pushing for "real debates on the floor of the House" with "civil, passionate discourse about what you do about the major problems facing this country."

Ultimately, he said, elections will need to be lost before the GOP realizes "you've got to get back and reach to a broader electorate. ... Without that, we've got a tough row to hoe."

The Akron Press Club will host Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James on Feb. 28. He will give his annual State of the Schools address. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, will speak to the Press Club on March 11. Information on both events will be posted at www.akronpressclub.org.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.