As It Happens

In 2016, this prof predicted Trump's presidency — and his impeachment

History professor Allan Lichtman called U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 election win while others were dismissing him. Now another of his years-old predictions may come true: the president's impeachment.

Allan Lichtman says President Trump has been 'on a path to impeachment' from day 1 of his campaign

Professor Allan Lichtman predicted Donald Trump's presidency back in 2016. Using the same questionnaire he also predicted that Trump would be impeached. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

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Allan Lichtman has made some seemingly far-fetched predictions about U.S. politics that have ended up coming true.

As It Happens first spoke to the American University professor during the 2016 election when he was sure that Donald Trump would win the presidency. It wasn't a fluke. Professor Lichtman has predicted the last nine U.S. presidential elections correctly.

And even before Donald Trump was elected, the professor came out with another prediction: that Donald Trump would be impeached.

As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal checked in with Professor Lichtman as, once again, his predictions look to be more accurate than others imagined. Here is part of their conversation.

Professor Lichtman, it seems as if your political crystal ball has not failed you yet. Is it luck or science?

Well, I think it's science. But it's also great to have a little bit of luck.

My system for predicting elections is a formal model called The Keys to the White House based on the study of every American presidential election from 1860 to 1980. It has correctly forecast the outcomes of all elections since 1984, including Donald Trump's 2016 improbable victory. And, in fact, he sent me a congratulatory letter after his win.

Lichtman says that according to his reliable questionnaire Trump is 'on a path to impeachment.' (Joe Raedle/Getty Images; Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

You didn't just predict that Trump would win — and went against everyone, by the way, when you did that — but you also said he'd be impeached. What made you make such a bold call, even before the president took office?

Yeah, I'm sure Trump did not read that far into the Washington Post article to see that second prediction or I might not have gotten his letter.

But my prediction about his impeachment was not based on a formal model, but my historical study of his full career and his campaign. 

What I found was he was a person unique among all American presidents, were he to be elected, who had no record of public service of any kind. He was someone who flouted the law. For him, lying was a way of life.

He had gotten into presidential politics with the biggest, worst, most protracted lie in U.S. political history: that our first African-American president was illegitimate, because he was born outside the U.S.

And finally, I saw someone who cared about nothing but himself. That put him on a path to impeachment, in my view, way back in September 2016.

To be fair, you didn't get things completely right on that front. You said you believed he'd face impeachment in the first year of taking office. Why do you think that hasn't happened as quickly as you'd imagined?

Yeah, obviously, it's very difficult to time impeachments. I'm not sure I pinned it down that finely, but I'll go with you.

And the reason is simply: it took a very long time for the Mueller investigation to unfold, and a very long time for the Democrats to finally grow a spine and stop playing not to lose, and hold the president accountable for his misdeeds.

There is concern out there, some people saying that pursuing impeachment could backfire for the Democrats, even affect their chances in the next election. Do you see impeachment as good or bad for them?

Well, I don't think impeachment should be decided by politics. But politically, of course, just as the conventional wisdom was so wrong about the 2016 election, they're equally wrong about 2020. Impeachment is a big benefit to Democrats and a major blow to Donald Trump, which is why you see him ranting and raving.

The conventional wisdom bases this on a misreading of the Clinton impeachment. When Republicans impeached President Clinton, yeah, they lost a few House seats, but they kept the House and the impeachment gave them the biggest prize in American politics: the presidency in 2000 — an election, without impeachment, that the Democrats could easily have won at a time of peace, prosperity, domestic and foreign tranquillity.

The impeachment let George W. Bush campaign on restoring integrity and honesty to the White House. It kept the Democrats' best campaigner, Bill Clinton, on the shelf, and a quarter of voters said the scandal was very important to their decision making. And remember, Democrats lost that election in the electoral college by just 537 votes in Florida.

Even if the president is impeached by Congress, it then, of course, falls to the Senate to try him. Given the Republican majority there, do you think Trump will actually be removed from office?

Well, again, you've got premature conventional wisdom. They're all saying, "Oh, the Senate would never remove him."

They have no idea what the Senate might do when all the facts are on the table. We're just a few days into the inquiry.

They investigated Richard Nixon for well over a year before Republicans came on board. And there may be much worse to come. We now know that Trump deep-sixed into that super-secret server, not just the conversation with the Ukrainian president, which apparently I thought was their best evidence, but conversations with the Saudi royal family and the dictator Vladimir Putin.

There may be much worse material in that for Donald Trump, if Congress could ever get their hands on it. This is what everyone misses about an impeachment investigation. You never know where it may go.

The investigation of Nixon started with an investigation of the Watergate break-in. What they found though was so many other things: illegal campaign contributions, illegal wiretaps, illegal break-ins, illegal attempts to rig elections. They didn't know any of that early on.

Republicans, to this point, and that's what's confounded so many people, they've shown no signs of abandoning Trump, despite so many missteps. What makes you think it might actually happen this time?

There's one thing that will make Republicans abandon Trump. One of the Lichtman rules of politics is that for incumbent officeholders, their top priority — maybe the only priority — is holding onto their power. And they will turn against Trump, if they believe he is taking them down. Because they have no love or loyalty to him independent of politics.

Lichtman says Republicans may turn on Trump if they sense that he is losing power and taking them down, because 'they have no love or loyalty to him independent of politics.' (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Do you have a prediction yet for the next presidential election?

I don't. But I will say that if the Democrats move to vote articles of impeachment and Trump becomes only the third American president to be impeached by the full House, that would turn one of my keys to the White House — the scandal key — against him, and make it much less likely, presuming he survives the impeachment, that he'll get re-elected.

Are you prepared for the possibility, eventually, that you might be wrong about an election call, after such a good run?

Of course. I'm not God. I'm not psychic Jeane Dixon, you know, who's in touch with superpowers. I'm a historian and patterns of history can always change and I've been saying that for many years.


Written by Chris Harbord and John McGill. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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