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The investigations: A thought experiment



Today, I’m talking about the RussiaGate investigations, but first, let’s give Trump some rare credit. He’s handled the Texas flooding well, so far. No “Heckuva job, Brownie!” moments. He’ll be down there tomorrow, and no doubt will look “presidential” (one of his favorite words). His poll numbers might even get a bounce; almost anything could increase them, since they can’t get much lower. So “Heckuva job, Trumpie.”

Now, onto RussiaGate.

Let’s do a little thought experiment and assume that Trump escapes all criminal and legal liability in the Mueller and Congressional investigations.

Maybe Manafort and Flynn are found guilty of something or other. Maybe Mueller gives a slap to Jared and Donald Jr. but otherwise lets them off. Maybe the House and Senate committees issue harsh language about “bad judgment” and “crossing lines,” but neither actually charges Trump with anything prosecutable. He dodges a bullet. What then?

Well, it’s obvious. “They threw everything they had at me and came up with nothing!” Trump tweets. “Just like I said all along. They spent, what? Fifty million of YOUR hard-earned tax dollars on a WITCH HUNT! #Sad.” Fox “News,” Limbaugh, Breitbart, Info Wars, the Wall Street Journal’s rightwing columnists and the rest of the Republican attack machine will howl with glee about libtards and traitorous snowflakes who offer nothing to real Americans, who have no ideas except to go after Donald Trump. Trump’s echo-chamber base will nod like bobbleheads in agreement, and rededicate themselves to this president. And what of the rest of America, the Democrats and independents who do not constitute Trump’s base, the 60% of voters who don’t like Trump, don’t trust him, and think he’s not a very good president?

That’s where my crystal ball gets cloudy. It depends on so many things. How’s the economy? Is there war? Does Trump continue to do incredibly bone-headed things, like pardoning Arpaio? More outrageous Twitter storms and incendiary speeches? Are the dossier’s most salacious allegations proven true? What about Trump’s relationships with Congressional Republicans?

This latter question is of particular interest because the following question has yet to be answered: Does Trump need Congressional Republicans more than they need him, or the other way around? It’s an open secret that most senior Republicans on Capitol Hill think Trump’s a fool, or worse. They have no respect for him as a man, they don’t believe most of what he says about anything, and they wouldn’t leave their young daughters or granddaughters alone with him for five seconds. They understand the damage he’s causing to America’s reputation around the world, they differ with him profoundly on trade and the Wall, and most of them, the Freedom Caucus excepted, think his strongest supporters—the ones who read Breitbart–are gonzo extremists.

Still, these Republican politicians have their agendas—smaller government, less taxes, fewer regulations—and a President Trump is their ticket to get their wish list enacted. So they probably need him more than he needs them. (San Francisco’s former mayor, Willie Brown, yesterday had a column in the S.F. Chronicle in which he stipulated that America now has three major political parties: Republicans, Democrats and Trump.)

This empowers and emboldens Trump. He’s sitting there playing poker with Ryan and McConnell. They’re betting like crazy, but Trump is staring at four Kings and he knows there are few hands that can beat him. Wouldn’t you feel confident under those circumstances?

But there’s one thing wrong with this scenario: Only a third of the country remains in Trump’s corner. As I wrote above, “What of the rest of America, the Democrats and independents who do not constitute Trump’s base?” Trump’s biggest problem is that their perception of him is pretty much baked in. First impressions are hard to change, and our first perception of Trump, negative as it was, was quickly replaced by a second, and a third, and a—well, you get the idea. Each successive impression is more negative than the previous one.

As a result, it’s not likely that Trump’s approval rating will ever rise above 40%. He could limp along for the rest of his term like that, with everyone tsk-tsking how horrible it is, and yet, he could win a second term under the right circumstances. If the Democratic Party wants to take back one or both houses of Congress next year, and then win the presidency in 2020, they’re going to have to figure out how to unite the Hillary and Bernie wings of the party. Then they’re going to find a fantastic candidate: another Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. What did those two men have in common? Three things. (1) They spoke more or less in liberal, traditional Democratic terms. (2) They were easy on the eyes, no small necessity in our television age. And (3) They both were working class Americans who convinced voters they shared our hopes and pains. Is there anyone in the Democratic Party, man or woman, like that today? No one comes to mind, but both Obama and Clinton arose very fast, seemingly out of nowhere. I would expect the 2020 race to be similar. Someone’s going to erupt and be the Democratic nominee. But we first have to get through the off-year elections. Meanwhile, please think about our brothers and sisters in Texas, and, if you can, donate a few bucks to their relief.

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