‘Unthinkable’ idea gains traction as Trump loses control
DONALD Trump's political allies have reacted to yesterday's explosive New York Times op-ed with a convulsion of righteous fury.
The article, written by an anonymous "senior official" in the administration, revealed some of Mr Trump's own appointees were "working from within" to undermine the President's agenda.
The hours since it was published have been dominated by speculation about the mysterious author's identity. You can read a comprehensive breakdown of the most prominent candidates here.
A number of them have publicly denied being the author. That list includes Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, White House counsel Don McGahn, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Defence Secretary James Mattis.
They are all performing for an audience of one man.
Mr Trump is reportedly watching the flow of denials carefully, with aides printing out each one and bringing it to his desk.
Mr Pence was particularly vociferous, calling the Times' decision to publish the op-ed "a new low in American journalism".
"I think it's a disgrace," he said. "I think The New York Times should be ashamed and I think whoever wrote this anonymous editorial should be ashamed as well."
Other Republicans have gone beyond angry words, and are instead pushing for action.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders posted the phone number of the Times' opinion desk on Twitter, urging her followers to call it and demand to know the identity of the "anonymous coward" and "gutless loser" behind the piece.
Senator Rand Paul, who identifies as a libertarian, advocated a rather authoritarian approach.
"I think if you have a security clearance in the White House, I think it would acceptable to use a lie-detector test and ask people whether they are talking to the media against the policy of the White House," Mr Paul told reporters.
"This could be very dangerous if the person who is talking to the media is actually revealing national security secrets so yes, I think we need to get to the bottom of it."
The message from Mr Trump's allies is clear - the author of the piece needs to be weeded out and punished.
THE UNTHINKABLE SOLUTION
In true Trumpian fashion, this story has developed, if anything, too quickly.
The world has moved on to debating the article's morality before properly registering its contents.
Senior officials and White House staffers, many of whom were appointed by Mr Trump, are so convinced the President is unfit for office that they are trying to stop him from within.
That is an extraordinary sentence. It would have been preposterous to read under any other president, with the exception of Richard Nixon.
The quiet mutiny described by the op-ed as well as in Watergate reporter Bob Woodward's upcoming book is not the "deep state" coup Mr Trump occasionally rants about with such venom. It is not a bunch of holdout bureaucrats from the Obama administration conspiring to sabotage their political opponent.
It is a group of Republicans - Trump appointees - who thought they could work with this president, but now view him with horror.
"It's impossible to know in the moment when a presidency begins to dissolve. But after a devastating 48 hours, it's already clear that Donald Trump's will never be the same," CNN White House reporter Stephen Collison said today.
"Washington is watching the opening act of a stunning attempt to topple the elected leader of the nation."
According to Mr Collison, this week's revelations pose "questions that would once have been unimaginable".
"What will happen if, as it appears, America does not have a stable, functioning president? Will the mutiny among unidentified senior officials build, and will they break cover, provoke resignations or further shred the fabric of the administration?"
People are now openly discussing a previously unthinkable option - Mr Trump's own government intervening and removing him from office.
"If senior administration officials think the president of the United States is not able to do his job, then they should invoke the 25th Amendment," said Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat widely tipped to run against Mr Trump in 2020.
"The Constitution provides for a procedure whenever the Vice President and senior officials think the president can't do his job. It does not provide that senior officials go around the president."
The anonymous official claimed there were "whispers" among Mr Trump's cabinet appointees of invoking the amendment, a mechanism through which he could be replaced by the vice president.
Mr Pence and a majority of the Cabinet would need to declare Mr Trump unable to "discharge the powers and duties of his office". Then, if Mr Trump disputed their judgment, the matter would go to a vote in the House and Senate, where two-thirds of each chamber would have to vote to remove him.
So, why hasn't that happened? Because it's a longshot, and being unprecedented, would almost certainly spark legal chaos.
"No one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis," the author said.
"So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until - one way or another - it's over."
Putting aside the furious accusations of gutlessness, cowardice and treason emanating from Mr Trump and those in his orbit, there is one charge the article's author will struggle to deny - hypocrisy.
The anonymous official accused Mr Trump of being "undemocratic" (among many other things) and spoke of their struggle to "preserve our democratic institutions" by curtailing the President's worst impulses.
One of those institutions is presumably the electoral system, which gives voters the power to decide who runs their country.
Whoever the official is, we can safely assume no one cast any votes for them in the 2016 election.
Sixty-three million people voted for Mr Trump. He may have lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, but under the rules of America's system, he won the election.
The official believes Mr Trump is amoral, petty, impulsive, and essentially bad at his job in every conceivable way. You can understand their desire to insulate the United States from any damage such a man might do.
But however noble their intentions, it is an inescapable fact that they are undermining the democratically elected leader of the country.
"The notion that the bureaucratic class in Washington should dictate which policies presidents are allowed to advocate simply by ignoring their wishes sounds a lot more like a soft coup than a constitutionally principled resistance," The Federalist's David Harsanyi wrote today.
"If he wants to make policy, or thinks Trump should be impeached over his temperament, Anonymous should reveal himself and run for office."
There have been many calls, even among Mr Trump's most consistent critics, for the author to reveal their identity and resign.
Not everyone agrees.
"I think the op-ed author is actually in the right. Given the stakes here, up to and including literal nuclear war, there need to be some people working quietly to prevent the worst from happening," Zach Beauchamp wrote for Vox.
Mr Beauchamp said "well-meaning" Trump staffers were faced with a "terrible choice".
"They can stay and do their best to undermine him where they can, or quit and potentially let Trump staff the White House with cronies and yes men."