No constitutional scholar of repute will deny that the evidence of criminality, as well as unfitness for office, has become so overwhelming eight months into Donald Trump’s presidency that the House of Representatives is obligated to begin impeachment proceedings.

The reason why it has not and will not in the foreseeable future speaks volumes about the moral vacuity of the Republican Party and how it and Trump’s shrinking base — and yes, it is shrinking — are holding America hostage.

Trump’s election support always was soft. That is, more people said they would vote for Trump because they didn’t like Hillary Clinton than because they supported Trump.

The current numbers vary somewhat depending on the poll, but overall fewer than 40 percent of registered voters approve of Trump’s performance although 46 percent of them voted for Trump last November in an election that was stolen twice — first with considerable help to the Trump campaign from the Russians and then by the Electoral College.

The percentage of voters who approve strongly of his performance — which is a pretty good if unscientific approximation of the base that Trump declared the other day is “bigger and stronger than ever before” — actually has shriveled to just 16 percent, down from 24 percent only a month ago.

Put in starker terms, this means only about one in six voters say they like the way Trump has conducted himself as president, while 56 percent of voters in a conservative-leaning Fox News poll say they believe Trump is “tearing the country apart.”

Remembering that Trump can do no wrong among his most ferent supporters and that most congressional Republicans won’t speak out because they need him to enact their legislative agenda, what has happened in the last month to accelerate the southward direction of his poll numbers?

Nothing and more of the same.

Over that month, every one of Trump’s campaign-promised and Republican-backed initiatives was dead on arrival, foundered or went down to defeat. And during that month, Trump:

* Embraced white nationalists, neo-Nazis and KKKers and then castigated the highest ranking Jewish member of his inner circle for criticizing him.

* Bridled at blowback from the secretary of state and defense secretary, among others, who distanced themselves from his hateful rhetoric.

* Fired two more aides, bringing to eight (not counting FBI Director James Comey) the high-ranking officials who have left his administration.

* Rolled back Obama era regulations on toxic pesticides, usurious lenders and debt relief for students misled by scam schools like Trump University.

* Announced a new Afghanistan war policy that while vague, assures continued stalemate and additional loss of American lives.

* Further thumbed his nose at the rule of law in pardoning Joe Arpaio, the convicted Arizona county sheriff known for his anti-Hispanic policies.

* Said he would end deportation protection for nearly 800,000 “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

* Absolved himself of his weak leadership by declaring war on congressional Republicans for failing to pass important legislation.

* Deepened his feud with Mitch McConnell after the Senate majority leader mused about Trump’s mental health and ability to lead the GOP.

* Threatened a government shutdown if his border wall, which will cost tens of billions of dollars, is not funded.

Trump’s handling of Hurricane Harvey, an immense natural disaster, was instructive:

* By his own admission, he waited until viewers were transfixed by hurricane coverage to pardon Arpaio so his ratings would be higher.

* His disconnect with reality was on offer with the furor over the First Lady wearing stiletto heels on her way to Houston.

* He claimed he witnessed Harvey’s devastation “first hand,” but the closest he got was meeting with officials well behind the scenes.

And finally:

* There was the increased likelihood that associates and family members will face indictment in the Russia scandal.

But those are only part of the reason Trump’s poll numbers are tanking because, truth be known, beyond health care relatively few voters give a fig about those other issues.

What those plummeting numbers do reflect is that after eight months, it is impossible to ignore that the president of the United States is batshit crazy, mean as hell, has a penchant for controversy and self-inflicted wounds, revels in juvenile taunts, has done deep moral damage to the country, and is a danger to America and the world at large.

And that some, if not many, Republican voters are deeply uncomfortable with the metamorphosis of the GOP — which once proudly called itself the Party of Lincoln — into a vehicle for white identity and racism, a mutation that its slavish support of Trump has completed.

The ethical rot of congressional Republicans — which is to say their refusal to move on impeachment in the face of overwhelming evidence demanding such action — comes at a time when a second set of emails has emerged showing that there was high-level outreach from Trump’s business and campaign to the Kremlin in the heat of the presidential election campaign, as well as the specter of preemptive Russia scandal pardons.

Those second emails conclusively show that while Trump was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, his company — with sleazy partner Felix Sater and personal lawyer Michael Cohen (photo, above) taking the lead — was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow and that as part of the deal, according to Sater, the Russian government would help get Trump elected.

(The first set of emails pertain to the infamous June 2016 meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner with Russians with intelligence backgrounds who promised they would provide official documents incriminating Clinton.)

Trump’s penchant for cover-ups — notably concealing his finances and being misleading about business dealings with America’s greatest foe while eagerly encouraging Russia to hack Clinton’s emails and kissing up to Vladimir Putin — are grist for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice mill, while the Moscow deal is a stunning conflict of interest in addition to being evidence of a willingness to collude with the Russians.

But neither are likely to move Congress to act on impeachment although Trump’s actions at the very least meet a key test of Article II of the Constitution — they are so great and so subvert government and the political order as to render the president a danger. Beyond Trump’s abuses of power, moral failures and abandoning the basic duties of his office, this includes personal enrichment, which only rarely has been part of the impeachment discussion.

What might move the Honorables are preemptive pardons for Trump aides (Manafort, Flynn, Page, Cohen) and family members (Donald Jr. and Kushner) who are under Mueller’s microscope. This is because while presidents have substantial leeway in granting pardons (Clinton with Marc Rich, Bush with Scooter Libby and Trump himself with Araipo), such pardons would be a blatant effort to extricate himself from “the Russia thing,” as Trump calls it.

The legal jeopardy of Trump aides and family members, if not the president himself, grows by the day because Mueller will not be deterred. But only congressional Republicans, who know that Trump’s base still has their back, can stop him.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.

TOP PHOTO BY SHEILAH CRAIGHEAD / THE WHITE HOUSE

Shaun Mullen
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