Following the indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates by special counsel Robert Mueller on charges seemingly unrelated to the 2016 election or attempted Russian meddling therein, I think we can all agree that the Republicans certainly could use an indictment and that this moment is as good or better as any for one.
After all, the consensus is that the GOP is now the Party of Trump. Yet Pres. Trump is at approx. 39% job approval (approx. 17 points underwater) after hitting new lows in both the Fox News and WSJ/NBC News polls. He has flipped to underwater in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Only 65% of Republicans and 73% of Trump voters are sure they want him to run for re-election in 2020. Democrats have a 10-point advantage on the generic Congressional ballot.
And there are the numbers after two quarters of solid economic growth. In short, it is currently not a great political environment for the Party of Trump roughly a year out from the midterms.
This is why the Right — Trump sympathizers and skeptics alike — have been talking up the threat of impeachment should Democrats retake the House of Representatives. It seems pretty clear that the GOP would like to use that impeachment threat to rally the grassroots and stave off the sort of losses that often occur in midterms, particularly when the party in power is saddled with a troubled presidency.
Just as then-candidate Trump needed that sense of a Flight 93-style crisis to boost his prospects, the Party of Trump needs that sense of existential threat to boost theirs. Trump needed Hillary Clinton to personify the global elites that would destroy America; the Party of Trump needs Robert Mueller to personify the threat of impeachment. Bill Clinton and the Democrats once needed a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy as the scapegoat for his impeachment problems; Trump and the Party of Trump need the special counsel to represent the shadowy Deep State cabal seeking to drown the president in the fetid establishment Swamp.
That threat seemed a lot more distant and amorphous without people getting indicted. So the Party of Trump really needed an indictment.
My only concern on this front is that, even before the indictment was unsealed, Trump surrogates leapt at the notion that Mueller should be fired now. The GOP really needs to keep the Saturday Night Massacre option in its back pocket, so that you can have a truly polarizing firestorm much closer to the midterms. Trump exercising a modicum of self-control here is evidence of his skill at nine-dimensional chess. It’s disappointing that some of his supporters haven’t appreciated his genius here.
Update: As I was hitting the “publish” button, Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadoupoulos pleaded guilty to lying to FBI on matters related to the Russia probe.
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