After just two months, there is no question that the Donald Trump presidency is an unmitigated disaster.
The FBI is conducting an investigation to determine whether members of the Trump campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to help elect Donald Trump last year. This by itself is extraordinary and unprecedented. As Republicans noted last year, it is very difficult to have a presidential administration under FBI investigation.
No one knows what the investigation will find, but what we already know is bad enough. Senior Trump advisors lied about their contacts with Russian officials; one, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign from the administration.
The Trump administration is weakening NATO as well as key U.S.-European alliances—both items which advance Vladimir Putin’s agenda. Trump and his family have made clear that access to the administration is for sale, and Trump is enjoying immense financial benefits from monetizing the office of the presidency and raising concerns about unconstitutional corruption. Steve Bannon, a top White House advisor, is a white nationalist who sees the world in terms of a Manichean racial and religious conflict. Scholars warn about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies as the president and administration officials bully and threaten journalists, federal judges and anyone else who stands in their way.
Trump and his administration claim the power to define reality itself, advancing dangerous lies about non-existent voter fraud and a fantasized plot by Barack Obama and British intelligence to tap phones at Trump Tower before the election.
In a parliamentary system, Trump would almost certainly face a no confidence vote forcing a new election, as his public support has dropped to historically low levels and even members of his own party in Congress worry about his presidency, and even his stability. The U.S. system doesn’t expressly allow for this, so most of the discussion regarding the possibility of removing Trump from office (discussion engaged in by Republican commentators as well as Democrats) has focused on impeachment or the 25th Amendment. But there is, at least in theory, a way to call for a new election under the American system, and this needs to be part of the discussion as well.
It has famously been said (in a different context) that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. One implication of this observation is that we don’t need to sit around and twiddle our thumbs as Donald Trump does his best to destroy American constitutional democracy. Article V of the Constitution provides for the familiar amendment process that produced the Bill of Rights, ended slavery, and extended the vote to women and black Americans. That same process can be used to call for a special election.
Here’s how it could work: Each chamber of Congress, the House and the Senate, would have to vote by a two-thirds majority to hold a special election. three-quarters of state legislatures would have to ratify the amendment. The amendment would call for a one time special election, allowing qualified political parties (the Republicans and Democrats, and other parties who can meet a threshold to qualify for the ballot) one month to choose a nominee and then one month for a general election, to be held on a national holiday. The amendment would make clear this is a one-time event. After the election is held, we would revert to pre-existing constitutional procedures, for example, with a presidential election held every four years. The amendment could also provide for a national unity government to occupy the executive branch while the short election campaign goes on.
It is perfectly reasonable to describe this as the longest of long shots-- most centrally because this could only happen if Republicans and Congress and in state legislatures crossed party lines. Something like this happened during the Watergate crisis, but today is a more polarized time. However, it’s well worth making the effort to persuade Republicans. The alternative is to continue living under an administration that grows more dysfunctional, rudderless and dangerous every day.
The benefit of having a special election instead of using existing constitutional processes to remove the president from office is that the taint of Russian interference associated with the last election could be removed and American voters would retain the authority to select the president.
A special presidential election in the United States would be extraordinary and unprecedented, and should not be taken lightly. But the problem the Trump administration poses is itself extraordinary and unprecedented. It’s time to think creatively about all possible solutions, and it’s important to understand that the U.S. Constitution gives us the ability to do just that, if we are willing to act boldly and decisively.
Chris Edelson is an assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs. His latest book, "Power Without Constraint: The Post 9/11 Presidency and National Security," was published in 2016 by the University of Wisconsin Press.