From the left, Robert Perry uses the term in The ‘Soft Coup’ of Russia-gate Consortium News 05/13/2017:
Many people who detest Trump view Russia-gate as the most likely path to achieve Trump’s impeachment, so this desirable end justifies whatever means.And he makes the argument to consider this a "soft coup" in his own words:
Some people have told me that they even believe that it is the responsibility of the major news media, the law enforcement and intelligence communities, and members of Congress to engage in a “soft coup” against Trump – also known as a “constitutional coup” or “deep state coup” – for the “good of the country.”
The argument is that it sometimes falls to these Establishment institutions to “correct” a mistake made by the American voters, in this case, the election of a largely unqualified individual as U.S. president. It is even viewed by some anti-Trump activists as a responsibility of “responsible” journalists, government officials and others to play this “guardian” role, to not simply “resist” Trump but to remove him.
The New York Times and The Washington Post, in particular, have made it clear that they view Trump as a clear and present danger to the American system and thus have cast aside any pretense of neutrality.Perry is a solid researcher whose reporting has taught him to be highly skeptical of intelligence agency claims and the Establishment and/or Beltway Village consensus on issues. His article does raise some relevant questions about civil liberties concerns and about some of the ways that Trump associates Carter Page and Paul Manafort are being characterized as "pro-Russian."
The Times justifies its open hostility to the President as part of its duty to protect “the truth”; the Post has adopted a slogan aimed at Trump, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” In other words, America’s two most influential political newspapers are effectively pushing for a “soft coup” under the guise of defending “democracy” and “truth.”
But the obvious problem with a “soft coup” is that America’s democratic process, as imperfect as it has been and still is, has held this diverse country together since 1788 with the notable exception of the Civil War.
If Americans believe that the Washington elites are removing an elected president – even one as buffoonish as Donald Trump – it could tear apart the fabric of national unity, which is already under extraordinary stress from intense partisanship.
That means that the “soft coup” would have to be carried out under the guise of a serious investigation into something grave enough to justify the President’s removal, a removal that could be accomplished by congressional impeachment, his forced resignation, or the application of Twenty-fifth Amendment, which allows the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet to judge a President incapable of continuing in office (although that could require two-thirds votes by both houses of Congress if the President fights the maneuver).
And he has an entirely legitimate concern about what he describes this way, "the larger political problem confronting the United States is that the neoconservatives and their junior partners, the liberal interventionists, now control nearly all the levers of U.S. foreign policy. That means they can essentially dictate how events around the world will be perceived by most Americans." The uncritical and sometimes careless reporting on Russia-Russia-Russia is obviously of benefit to those who for whatever reason - including serious concerns about how Russian actions may affect US and European security - favor a policy of aggressive confrontation toward Russia.
There's a strange sideline phenomenon going on, an anti-Trump stream of "fake news" that careless liberals sometimes find attractive. The current leading light in this corner of the information ecosystem is Louise Mensch. (Zack Beauchamp, Democrats are falling for fake news about Russia Vox 05/19/2017) Beauchamp describes the perspective involved as "a general sense that Russian influence in the United States is pervasive and undercovered by the mainstream media. Everything that happens in US politics is understood through this lens — especially actions taken by the Trump administration, which is seen as Kremlin-occupied territory." The kind of items Beauchamp discuss are examples of what Perry warns about, deceptive reports aimed to take advantage of an exacerbate anti-Russian fears and hatreds.
Facts do matter.
And there is enough in the public record now to justify serious impeachment proceedings.
Michael Tracey of TYT Politics discusses what might be called a soft version of the "soft coup" narrative with Mollie Hemingway, a senior editor of The Federalist, Media's Trump Obsession: Are They Overreacting? 05/19/2017
Michael mostly lets Mollie keep the conversation at a high level of generalization, though they do discuss some of the specific accusations against Trump that might be involved in impeachment. They discuss it in terms of the Deep State, the various intelligence, military and bureaucratic interests within the executive and the larger military-industrial complex. I've never gotten completely comfortable with the "Deep State" term. Because its usage in practice seems always to be too fuzzy for my taste.
James Downton of The Federalist outlines a conservative version of the "soft coup" theory, although he doesn't use that exact phrase, in We Are Watching A Slow-Motion Coup D’etat 05/19/2017. One of the most popular narratives about President Nixon's resignation under the threat of impeachment among conservatives is that it was a purely partisan-political action, i.e., an illegitimate one. Facilitated by Republicans of the times now regarded by conservative partisans as squishes and phony Republicans. So there is a ready-made conservative template for regarding a removal of Trump from office as an illegitimate partisan event. So it's worth paying at least some attention to this preliminary version tailored to Trump.
Downton also forgoes the Deep State term. But he describes the collective agent of the supposed coup against Trump as "forces within the U.S. government, media, and partisan opposition have aligned to overthrow the Electoral College winner, Donald Trump." He does apply the term recently popularized by Steve Bannon, "the administrative state." But he declines to anoint particular individuals as masterminds of this plan:
Unlike the coup d’etat that sees a military or popular figure lead a minority resistance or majority force into power over the legitimate government, this coup d’etat is leaderless and exposes some of the deepest fissures in our system of government. This coup d’etat represents not the rule of one man or even many, but by the multitude of our elites.He does show a probably unintentional humorous side when the talks about "the Democratic Party’s scorched-earth campaign against the political nominations of the Trump White House." The Democrats managed to keep that ferocious campaign well concealed from the Democratic base. He argues that "what has been branded as 'The Resistance' ... in actuality is the totalitarian might of the administrative state and their partisan allies." He illustrates that with a quote from the liberal magazine Mother Jones.
Downton tells us that the shadowy instigators of this Administrative State coup attempt see their role this way: "In their minds they are but a guardian of the people, albeit one that must stand up to and ultimately negate the will of that very same people." This is just another dull variation on the unending condemnation of those Mean Librul elitists that supposedly run the world, despite the desperate resistance of the embattled billionaire rugged individualists suffering horribly under the unbearable pain of having to pay taxes to support their country.
The rest of his article is largely made up of various repetitions of the general charge that all known embarrassing reports on the conduct of Trump and his team generated by "collusion between the various elements of the partisan Left, the media, and the administrative state." He doesn't engage seriously with even the best-grounded and disturbing reports, like Michael Flynn acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey and the various clandestine contacts between the Trump campaign and transition teams with Russian officials.
Ironically, the reader learns at the end of the piece, "James Downton is the pen name of a Federalist contributor who is contractually prohibited from writing publicly about politics under his real name."
I'm reluctant to include the move to oust Trump, which the Democrats are pursuing fairly timidly from my point of view, as an instance of a "soft coup." For one thing, quite unlike the cases of Paraguay and Brazil, a removal of Trump from office would not represent a change in the governing party or any major changes in direction of policy. Mike Pence can be assumed to wish to carry forward most of Trump policies, although he could conceivably pursuing a more New Cold War type policy towards Russia than Trump may favor. Pence was elected on the same party ticket and platform as Trump. So even if he were impeached and removed from office for politically or ethically illegitimate reasons, the question would remain whether it could be considered a coup.
Because even the most legitimate and clearly proven of causes for impeachment and removal would proceed by the same Constitutional procedure. And, with the current office-holders, the party holding the Presidency would not change. The official line of succession to the Presidency has never gone beyond the Vice President in practice. Wikipedia's United States presidential line of succession as of this writing has the following table showing the current line of succession:
Numbers 6, 16 and 17 are Independents, number 6 being Defense Secretary James "Mad Dog" Mattis. The rest are Republicans.