Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Plum Line | Opinion

As Mueller closes in, Trump prepares his base for the worst

By Greg Sargent

August 7, 2017 at 10:43 AM

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President Trump likes to trumpet his "tremendous" support and strong base, but polls show that his approval rating is declining, even among key demographics that voted for him in 2016. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

THE MORNING PLUM:

President Trump is again attacking the media this morning, and his broadsides carry a newly ominous edge: He is both faulting the media for allegedly downplaying the size and intensity of support from his base and accusing them of trying to deliberately weaken that support for him.

This comes some 24 hours after Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein made big news by telling “Fox News Sunday” that if the special counsel finds evidence of crimes in the course of his probe into Russian sabotage of our election, it may be within the scope of his investigation to pursue them.

In these seemingly disparate developments, it is hard not to discern the potential for a volatile, combustible combination.

Because Trump is undermining our democratic norms and processes in so many ways, it is often easy to focus on each of them in isolation, rather than as part of the same larger story. But, taken together, they point to a possible climax in which Trump, cornered by revelations unearthed by Robert S. Mueller III’s probe and by ongoing media scrutiny, seeks to rally his supporters behind the idea that this outcome represents not the imposition of accountability by functioning institutional safeguards, but rather an effort to steal the election from him — and from them.

Related: [From ‘I need loyalty’ to ‘Witch Hunt’: Trump’s second 100 days, in his words and ours]

On ABC’s “This Week,” Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway yesterday dismissed the “entire Russia investigation” as a “total fabrication” to “excuse” Hillary Clinton’s loss. This echoed Trump himself, who recently told a rally that the probe is an effort to “cheat” his supporters out of their legitimately elected leadership (i.e., him) with a “fake story” that is “demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution.”

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Trump administration officials and senators from both parties on Aug. 6 commented on proposals in the Senate to limit President Trump’s ability to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

It bears repeating that Mueller’s investigation is looking at how a hostile foreign power may have sabotaged our democracy, and at whether the Trump campaign colluded with it, and at conduct by Trump himself that came after the election: Whether the firing of former FBI Director James B. Comey after a demand for his loyalty was part of a pattern of obstruction of justice. The first of these has been attested to by our intelligence services, and evidence of the second (at least in the form of a willingness to collude) and the third of these has been unearthed by dogged scrutiny by news outlets. It is hardly an accident that Trump continues to cast doubt on the credibility of both those institutions, even as he and his spokespeople continue to cast the entire affair as an effort to reverse the election by illegitimate means.

This threatens damage on multiple levels. By casting the entire Russia story as fiction, Trump seeks to undermine the credibility of efforts to determine how our electoral system might be vulnerable to further attacks, separate and irrespective of what is learned about the Trump campaign’s conduct, possibly making it less likely that we secure our system against any such future sabotage.

We don’t know what all the ongoing scrutiny will produce in the way of revelations. But if it does produce any serious wrongdoing by Trump and/or his campaign — or even evidence of serious misconduct that is not criminal — it’s not difficult to imagine what might happen next. Trump’s advisers regularly tell us he will cooperate with Mueller’s probe and play down the possibility of any effort to remove the special counsel. But Trump has confirmed that he is furious with his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for failing to protect him from the Russia investigation. That Trump confirmed this publicly only further underscores that he has zero sense of any obligation to the public to follow any rules of conduct, and plainly views any efforts to hold him accountable to those rules as illegitimate.

Conservative writer Matt Lewis floats a scenario in which Mueller, under pressure to produce results, slips into prosecutorial overreach, giving Trump voters legitimate reasons to feel that the presidency is being stolen from them. It is fair to worry about such an outcome, and we must remember that we are far from knowing the full truth about what happened in 2016. But it’s also easy to envision the flip side: Trump demagoguing his supporters into a frenzy of rage, at rallies that are exactly like the ones we’ve seen in recent days, in the face of legitimate revelations.

To be sure, there are new signs that Republicans in Congress are taking steps to set up safeguards, should Trump try to remove Mueller. There is reassuring evidence that our institutions are holding — for now, anyway — and as Brian Beutler notes, it’s likely that more future revelations about Trump’s unfitness for the presidency will further undercut his efforts to cast institutions holding him accountable as illegitimate. But Trump is already giving every indication that he will go all out in trying. And how much damage that will cause is anyone’s guess.

* NEW YORK TIMES DENOUNCES TRUMP’S UNPRECEDENTED LYING: The Times has a big piece taking stock of the unprecedented nature of Trump’s nonstop lying and fraudulence, with some good points from presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin:

The glaring difference between Mr. Trump and his predecessors is the sheer magnitude of falsehoods and exaggerations … That leaves scholars like Ms. Goodwin to wonder whether Mr. Trump … has forever changed what Americans are willing to tolerate from their leaders. “What’s different today and what’s scarier today is these lies are pointed out, and there’s evidence that they’re wrong,” she said. “And yet because of the attacks on the media, there are a percentage of people in the country who are willing to say, ‘Maybe he is telling the truth.’ ”

And among GOP voters, it’s working.

* WHAT IS TRUMP DOING ABOUT ATTACKS ON NEXT ELECTION? Former homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson made an important point on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday:

“There is still … a threat out there to our election infrastructure that this administration needs to address. … I’m concerned that we are almost as vulnerable perhaps now as we were six or nine months ago. … we need a national campaign from the president, from the next secretary of homeland security, to really address this problem.”

The fact that Trump continues to suggest there was no Russian sabotage at all should intensify scrutiny of what his administration is doing to safeguard the next election.

* TRUMP LAGS FAR BEHIND IN NOMINATIONS: CNN runs the numbers:

As of August 4, when the Senate left town for its August recess, Trump has nominated 277 people for key posts, has had 124 confirmed, and has withdrawn eight of the nominations … The Partnership for Public Service has identified 577 executive branch positions as being particularly essential — and Trump has only successfully filled about a fifth of them.

As CNN notes, his last three predecessors had far more nominations and confirmations at this point. Good thing we have a businessman in office to show those politicians how to run things.

* SHOULD PROGRESSIVES PRIORITIZE SINGLE PAYER? Paul Krugman argues that getting to single payer is much harder than many on the left acknowledge, and suggests prioritizing more spending on children instead:

A commitment to universal health coverage — bringing in the people currently falling through Obamacare’s cracks — should definitely be a litmus test. But single-payer, while it has many virtues, isn’t the only way to get there … I’d enhance the A.C.A., not replace it, although I would strongly support reintroducing some form of public option … if it were up to me, I’d talk about improving the A.C.A., not ripping it up and starting over, while opening up a new progressive front on child care.

Of course, the deeper dispute on the left revolves around whether this can sufficiently secure health care as a right; the Affordable Care Act attempts to approximate this right around existing constraints.

* TRUMP KEEPS ON LYING ABOUT OBAMACARE PAYMENTS: Trump has been slamming the cost-sharing reductions that subsidize out-of-pocket costs for low-income people, calling them “bailouts.” Glenn Kessler has a good fact-check:

Trump is misusing the term “bailout.” Insurance companies don’t make money through cost-sharing — they are being paid back for money they’ve already spent on behalf of people who purchased their health plans. The president either doesn’t understand the process or is being purposely misleading. He earns Four Pinocchios.

Don’t forget that these lies are part of a Trump campaign to deliberately sow uncertainty about the CSRs, driving up premiums or causing insurers to exit in the quixotic quest for more leverage.

* AND TRUMP SABOTAGE OF ACA CONTINUES APACE: A good Post report takes stock of all the ways the administration is sabotaging the ACA. The biggest is through uncertainty around the CSRs:

Without those subsidies … policy premiums are widely predicted to spike for 2018, and more insurers may defect. White House aides had said a decision would be made last week, but none was announced. Insurers planning to participate in the marketplaces next year must submit final rates to states in less than 10 days.

And once again, there is no rationale whatsoever for this course of action, which could harm millions. It won’t give Trump leverage over Democrats, and Trump has no inkling of what he’d want a deal with Dems to look like to begin with.

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, second from right, pose for photographs with the University of Utah ski team during an event with NCAA championship teams at the White House.
President Trump visits the U.S. Capitol to meet with Republicans on the day the House will be voting on its tax bill.
Trump speaks about his Asia trip in the diplomatic reception room of the White House.
President Trump receives a bomber jacket from Air Force personnel during an event at Yokota Air Base at Fussa, near Tokyo.
Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold up hats they have both signed that read “Donald and Shinzo, Make Alliance Even Greater” at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Japan.
Trump and Abe meet with their wives Melania Trump and Akie Abe for a dinner at a restaurant in Tokyo.
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump, accompanied by Adm. Harry Harris, left, and his wife Bruni Bradley, throw flower pedals while visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii.
First lady Melania Trump listens as President Trump speaks with reporters at the White House before departing from the South Lawn in Marine One for a trip to Asia.
President Trump, flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose for a photo with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family during Halloween celebrations at the White House.
Trump departs in his motorcade after an afternoon at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va.
President Trump hands out candy to children of journalists and White House staffers for Halloween in the Oval Office.
Trump holds up a presidential memorandum to declare the opioid crisis a national public-health emergency after signing it at the White House.
President Trump takes questions from reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on his way to Marine One before departing for Texas to attend a briefing on hurricane relief efforts.
President Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pose with winners from the National Minority Enterprise Development Week Awards Program in the Oval Office of the White House.
A protester throws Russian flags as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), center left, walks with President Trump to the Senate Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill.
Trump bestows the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to retired Army Capt. Gary M. Rose, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Trump and Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, shake hands during a joint statement in the Rose Garden.
Boeing Executive Vice President Kevin McAllister, right, and Singapore Airlines chief executive Goh Choon Phong, along with Trump and Singapore Prime Minister Loong, attend a signing ceremony for airplane sales at the White House.
Trump, with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster by his side, shakes hands with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres in the Oval Office.
Trump, center right, and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico, center left, and others meet in the Oval Office.
Trump, right, listens as Rosselló speaks in the Oval Office.
Trump, flanked by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), speaks during a meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee and members of his economic team in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
Trump waits at the West Wing of the White House for the arrival of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Trump meets with Tsipras in the Oval Office.
Trump answers a reporter’s question during a news conference with Tsipras in the White House Rose Garden.
Trump talks with Hope Hicks, White House communications director, between radio interviews at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
Trump makes a statement on Iran policy in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.
Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, speaks to the news media on the South Lawn of the White House.
Trump prepares to hand the pen he used to sign an executive order on health care to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.
Trump congratulates Kirstjen Nielsen after nominating her to be secretary of homeland security in the East Room of the White House.
Trump shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, left, and first lady Melania Trump look on from the Oval Office of the White House.
Trump speaks in Middletown, Pa.
Trump honors the NHL’s Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the East Room of the White House.
Trump departs Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va.
Trump speaks at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in the East Room of the White House as Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, left, first lady Melania Trump and Treasurer Jovita Carranza listen.
Trump holds up the signed National Manufacturing Day Proclamation in the Oval Office.
Trump speaks during a briefing with senior military leaders at the White House.
Trump speaks as he and the first lady meet with first responders at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Trump talks with residents during a walking tour with the first lady in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria hit the island.
Trump makes a statement about the mass shooting in Las Vegas from the Diplomatic Room at the White House.
Trump speaks to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington.
Trump stops to greet people as he walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House.
Trump takes a group photo with members of the National Security Council on the steps of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds.
Trump shakes hands with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy during a meeting in the Oval Office.
Trump and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hold a joint a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House.
Trump speaks before signing a memorandum to expand access to STEM, science technology engineering and math, education, in the Oval Office.
Trump greets Sen. Luther Strange at a campaign rally for the Republican in Huntsville, Ala.
Trump meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Palace Hotel in New York.
Trump arrives with first lady Melania Trump, right, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Trump speaks during the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Trump encourages Frank “FX” Giaccio, left, as his father, Greg Giaccio, looks on while he mows the lawn in the Rose Garden of the White House. Trump accepted Giaccio’s offer after he wrote to the president saying it would be an “honor to mow the White House lawn.”
The Trumps and Vice President Pence tour Naples Estates, an area in Florida damaged by Hurricane Irma.
The Trumps participate in a moment of silence at the White House in remembrance of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis greet members of the military after a Sept. 11 memorial service at the Pentagon.
The Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah, and Trump hold translation earphones as a reporter asks a question at a news conference in the East Room of the White House.
Trump and Pence meet with House and Senate leaders at the White House.
Trump speaks alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as they hold a meeting about tax overhaul in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Trump waves as he departs St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington with first lady Melania Trump after they attended services for a national “Day of Prayer” for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Assistant rector D. Andrew Olivo is at center.
Trump gives a little girl a kiss as he and the first lady greet Harvey evacuees in Houston.
The first lady and the vice president look on as the president holds up a FEMA damage-assessment map of Texas.
Trump holds up the Texas state flag after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Harvey relief efforts at a fire station where people gathered to welcome him in Corpus Christi.
Trump shakes hands with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto during their joint news conference in Washington.
Trump shows his signature after signing the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act into law at the American Legion convention in Reno, Nev.
Trump participates in a tour of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Yuma, Ariz.
Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, looks up toward the solar eclipse without glasses from a balcony at the White House.
At the White House, Trump displays a memorandum he signed addressing China’s trade practices.
At his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., Trump speaks about the violent protests in Charlottesville, that turned deadly.
Trump attends a workforce-development discussion at his club in Bedminster, N.J. From left: senior adviser Jared Kushner, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the president, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, aide Andrew Bremberg and Ivanka Trump.
Trump speaks to reporters after meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster in Bedminster.
Trump and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, center, talk with a patient via a tablet during the “telehealth” event.
Trump, flanked by Sens. Tom Cotton (R- Ark.), left, and David Perdue (R-Ga.), speaks in the Roosevelt Room during the unveiling of legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration.
White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Trump shake hands after Kelly’s private swearing-in ceremony in the Oval Office.
Police applaud a line by Trump during remarks about his proposed government effort against the MS-13 gang at a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officials in Brentwood, N.Y.
Trump presents the Medal of Valor to U.S. Capitol Police Officer Crystal Griner during the ceremony honoring first responders at the shooting that took place during a Republican baseball team practice in Alexandria, Va.
Trump greets, from left, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Vice President Pence, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Terry Gou, chief executive of Foxconn, in the East Room of the White House after announcing the first U.S. assembly plant for the electronics giant.
Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri walk to the Rose Garden of the White House for a joint news conference.
Trump waves to the Boy Scout troops and leaders assembled at the group’s national jamboree in West Virginia.
Trump and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), second from left, stand for the colors during the commissioning ceremony of the “supercarrier” USS Gerald R. Ford in Norfolk.
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 21: President Donald Trump greets others during a meeting with survivors of the attack on USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Photo Gallery: A look at the second half, so far, of the president?s first year in the White House.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant — what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.

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The Plum Line | Opinion

As Mueller closes in, Trump prepares his base for the worst

By Greg Sargent

August 7, 2017 at 10:43 AM

Watch more!
President Trump likes to trumpet his "tremendous" support and strong base, but polls show that his approval rating is declining, even among key demographics that voted for him in 2016. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

THE MORNING PLUM:

President Trump is again attacking the media this morning, and his broadsides carry a newly ominous edge: He is both faulting the media for allegedly downplaying the size and intensity of support from his base and accusing them of trying to deliberately weaken that support for him.

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