As you likely know by now, Trump has shit the bed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue big time, thanks to a series of reckless decisions over the past week. From his increasingly-suspicious firing of FBI director James Comey to his leaking classified information to Russia, Trump has out-Trumped himself in terms of committing really stupid stuff. As one senior official in the administration put it in an interview with The Daily Beast, “I don't see how Trump isn't completely fucked." And while every news organization and media outlet — at least, all those that don’t rhyme with “white fart” — begin to explore the possibility of The Donald’s impeachment, a shadowy question has interrupted the pre-emptive excitement: What would happen after?
In the event of Trump’s impeachment, conviction, or even resignation, the executive chair would fall to Vice President Mike Pence. President Pence would be the first person to take the executive office without being elected to it (or handed it by the Supreme Court, like what happened with George H.W. Bush) since Gerald Ford became POTUS after Nixon’s resignation. But unlike Ford, who was chosen to replace Spiro Agnew at least in part because of his general inoffensiveness, Pence has had ample time to exemplify exactly what his values are and where his priorities lie if he were to become Commander-in-Chief.
During his time as governor of Indiana, he famously signed a bill that required funerals for fetuses, was a front-line proponent of the conservative movement to rebrand bigotry as religious freedom through refusing service to the LGBTQ community, got in on the ground floor of the Tea Party movement — the dress-up party of reactionary racism that eventually leached its way into influence with the House Freedom Caucus. As a candidate for Vice President he showed himself willing to abandon traditional conservatism and his supposedly all-governing Christian values to support a man who publicly bragged about sexual assault. As Vice President, he’s sipped the Trump Kool-Aid every morning while he takes breakfast with “mother,” his skeevy, affectatious pet name for his wife. Pence has bought into racism, Russophilia, and chosen to grin and bear the un-American circus that the Trump administration has become.
President Pence would be a different kind of nightmare: Under Trump, we have the classic dictatorial problem of not having any idea what the erratic 70-year-old’s next move will be. If Pence’s demeanor and public antics from both before and after he became VP — from creepily claiming that he refuses to be alone with any woman besides his wife, to staring blankly over the DMZ to show the North Koreans “his resolve” — suggest anything, it’s that a President Pence would be a caricature more along the lines of The Major from Stephen King’s The Long Walk (distant, unimpeachably moral, deadly with the twin weapons of Law and Order) than the Zaphod Beeblebroxian insanity of Trump. Where Trump is reactive and ignorant of political norms, Pence would be a silent killer, allowing many of the same evils to continue, but without having the batshit impulse to first tell us all on Twitter.
All of this is, of course, a hypothetical that involves Trump being implicated for treason or any of the other crimes that might eventually form his docket without Pence also being implicated. And, as Harvard legal historian and Trump expert Noah Feldman told VICE in an interview, Trump likely has not committed a “crime of obstruction of justice,” meaning “ordinary statutory violations,” but rather "high crime and misdemeanor,” which means “acts by the president in the exercise of his office that abuse power, are corrupt, or undermine the rule of law.” In other words, he could still be impeached, though there isn’t a clear evidence of Trump committing a crime just yet.
And if it turns out that Pence was involved in any wrongdoing as a high-ranking member of the administration, the presidential line of succession would leave Paul Ryan in charge. This is a man who believes that Objectivism (a philosophy of greed and selfishness founded by a woman who would later take government assistance and live in public housing) should form the basis of our economic policy, and is one of the primary champions of the horrific American Health Care Act. This isn’t to say that if Trump is impeached we shouldn’t celebrate the victory — but at this point it’s hard to tell if it would improve anything at all.