It’s less than a month into President Trump’s term, yet Richard Epstein, the distinguished law professor, says it’s time for Trump to resign. Certain conservatives, and “classical liberals” as Epstein calls himself, have fantasized about a Trump exit since shortly after his entrance to the political scene. (I wished for it, but never expected it).
Some fancied that, having boosted his brand, he would drop out of the primaries. Some dreamed that, in the face of bad poll numbers, he would drop out of the general election. Now, the suggestion is that he should stand down from office and let Mike Pence take over.
Epstein is realistic enough to concede that Trump isn’t going anywhere. He writes: “I think that there is ample reason to call for Trump’s resignation, even though I know full well that my advice will not be heeded.” The key point, he says, is that “the alternative [to Trump] is no longer Hillary Clinton, but Mike Pence.”
I disagree. Because he won’t resign, the realistic alternative to Trump is a version of Trump hobbled by conservative calls for his resignation. That version will be less able to implement his program which, Epstein acknowledges, contains important elements that conservatives should like. Thus, calls for Trump’s resignation will be a boon to leftists and a blow, on balance, to conservatives.
Moreover, there is no reason why Trump should resign. The American people elected him, not Pence, to be our president. Calling for that outcome to be reversed after one month would make conservatives look as foolish and anti-democratic as liberals and hard leftists. It would also badly split the conservative movement, enabling pro-Trump elements to complain that their man was stabbed in the back.
Epstein points to nothing that justifies his call for Trump’s resignation. He says that Trump is anti-free trade. It remains to be seen how hostile to free trade Trump actually is. In any case, substantive disagreement with a president’s policy doesn’t warrant that president’s resignation.
Epstein cites the executive order on entry into the U.S. He considers it unconstitutional, but concedes that other formidable legal scholars disagree with him. Epstein points to the seriously flawed roll-out. But the poor roll-out of a single program doesn’t justify calls for a president’s resignation.
He points to Trump’s deeply flawed character, but not to any manifestation of it that supports overturning the election. Epstein refers to Trump’s “immoral flirtation with Vladimir Putin, but not to any concessions he has made to the Russian strongman. Calling Putin a “strong leader” hardly constitutes “immoral” behavior
The Trump administration holds promise (and, yes, some peril) for conservatives. We need to keep our nerve, criticizing the president when warranted but eschewing invitations to help sink him.