THE MORNING PLUM:
This morning, President Trump uncorked a series of tweets about how the “Corrupt Deep State” has been caught in a “major SPY scandal” that could prove to be “one of the biggest political scandals in history.”
This comes as the investigation he’s railing about continues to generate new revelations. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is examining yet another Trump Tower meeting, at which Trump’s son was reportedly open to accepting campaign help from Gulf state princes. Meanwhile, the business partner of Trump’s longtime fixer Michael Cohen has flipped on him.
In short, Trump’s latest tweets show him concocting crazy conspiracy theories in the face of an investigation that is closing in on him, his family and his cronies. Why is he doing this? Because the investigation, in tandem with dogged media digging, has already produced evidence of Trump campaign collusion with a foreign power to subvert our democracy and allegations of mind-boggling levels of corruption, which include Trump corruptly going to extraordinary lengths to subvert the workings of justice, with the active help of Republicans in Congress.
This set of facts contains an answer to a debate consuming Democrats: How much should they talk about Trump and Russia, and how should they do it?
Some new data has put Democrats on edge over this question. McClatchy reports that Navigator, a group of liberals and Democrats working to help craft 2018 messages, has released a new poll finding that 59 percent of Americans don’t think Mueller’s probe has produced evidence of any wrongdoing by Trump’s team.
I’m told that in multiple private discussions, leaders of progressive and liberal groups have evinced frustration with Democratic messaging on the Mueller investigation. The complaint has been that, as the story gets more complex, voters will lose track of why the investigation is important in the first place, and Democrats need to be more effective in explaining that. “There is a growing sense among groups working on this issue that Democrats need to be more vocal,” one person involved in these talks tells me.
This has led to some liberal expressions of fear that Trump is “winning” the public debate over the Mueller probe, an idea that some journalists have been very quick to countenance. But this is just wrong. And a recognition of this is central to the argument over how Democrats should proceed now.
While the number mentioned above is cause for Democrats’ concern, it tells only part of the story. Other polls have shown that large majorities, including of independents, support Mueller’s investigation into both Russian collusion and Trump’s finances, and that majorities think Mueller will find criminal or impeachable offenses.
In short, even if the public may not be sure what Mueller has uncovered so far, majorities continue to support the investigation and think there are solid grounds for its existence. While polls show that large majorities of Republicans agree with Trump that it is a “witch hunt,” it is obvious that the broader electorate is siding with the rule of law and against Trump.
This recognition is key to the argument currently underway among Democrats. It is the very fact that Trump is not winning the argument over the Mueller probe with the broader public that should embolden Democrats to press the case about it more vocally. Majorities believe Trump is dishonest; majorities believe Trump or his associates are guilty of serious wrongdoing; and majorities support the investigation designed to determine the full truth about that wrongdoing.
Democrats should talk about this. And the general public belief in Trump’s wrongdoing points to how. Even if the public may not be closely familiar with all the details involving Russian collusion, Democrats can connect the Mueller investigation to a broader case about Trump corruption and Republican efforts to help him escape accountability.
It’s about corruption, stupid
Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns; his nonstop self-dealing and profiteering off the presidency; the tales of Trump campaign willingness to collaborate with foreign powers to sway the election; and the constant assaults on a legitimate investigation designed to ferret out the truth — these are all part of the same story. Trump seized the presidency in part through nefarious means and is proceeding to degrade our democracy into a big grift machine for the enrichment of himself and his family — and he’s now spinning insane conspiracy theories and conspiring with Republicans in all kinds of ways to cover it all up.
“Democrats can effectively link the public’s concerns over the coverup of crimes in the Mueller investigation to the corruption they feel is endemic to Washington, and to Republicans in particular,” Jef Pollock, a Democratic pollster, tells me, adding that all of this can be grouped together under the message: “What are they hiding?” A Senate Democratic leadership aide tells me that in coming days, Democratic leaders will be working to connect Trump corruption to the Mueller probe in one narrative.
To be clear, there is an important difference in this regard between Democratic leaders in Washington and Democratic candidates. As we’ve already seen, candidates have talked less about Trump and Mueller, particularly in areas that are pro-Trump, and that approach has been working, as they have relied on anti-Trump energy to motivate the base for them. That will likely continue; Democratic candidates will adapt strategies to local electorates.
But Democratic leaders don’t need to shy away from making a strong case linking Trump corruption to the Mueller investigation and Trump’s efforts to hamstring it. Trump’s whack-job lies are not a sign that he’s winning the public argument; they’re a sign that he’s losing it. Democrats should act accordingly.
* TRUMP HAS NO NORTH KOREA STRATEGY: The New York Times reports that Trump is backing away from his demand that North Korea totally denuclearize, after Kim Jong Un insisted that wouldn’t happen. Trump badly wants to keep the summit on track:
While the gesture may avoid a swift rejection by Mr. Kim, it shows that Mr. Trump is willing to give up what for months has been his bedrock position in dealing with the North. And it demonstrates that three weeks before the June 12 meeting, the White House is still groping for a strategy to negotiate with a reclusive, suspicious nuclear-weapons state.
As one analyst puts it, Trump is now stuck trying to “find a credible way to claim this summit will lead to denuclearization.” We’re sure he’ll figure out some way to do this.
* WHITE HOUSE OFFICIALS SKEPTICAL OF SUMMIT: CNN’s Stephen Collinson reports that officials are increasingly pessimistic that the summit will come off, as it becomes clear that North Korea won’t just give up its nukes:
Anticipation about the June 12 meeting in Singapore is turning to pessimism, as the complexity of the initiative, the stark divides between Washington and Pyongyang, and inconsistencies in the White House’s approach to the meeting all become clear. … The fact that [North Korea denuclearization] could take years of painstaking negotiations to achieve after a Kim-Trump summit may be what is fueling rising skepticism among some White House officials that the summit will take place.
Who knew international diplomacy could be so complicated?
* DEMOCRATS BET ON RISING COALITION: Democratic primary voters yesterday picked Stacey Abrams, an African American woman, to run for governor in Georgia and Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, to run in a key Kentucky House race. The upshot:
The results marked an ongoing embrace by Democratic voters of non-politicians, women, veterans and nonwhite candidates to lead the party’s effort to take back control of the House and governors’ mansions this fall. … the results marked a reassertion of the party’s fealty to the rising American electorate — unmarried, young and racially diverse voters.
And as David Weigel reports, in Georgia, turnout among Republicans was flat relative to 2014, while among Democrats it was up 50 percent. That continues a good trend.
* PAUL RYAN IS LOSING CONTROL: The Post reports that conservatives are raging at Paul Ryan because he wants to find a compromise on immigration. Meanwhile, it looks like the “dreamers” may soon get a vote:
The next front in the internal GOP battle will play out of the coming weeks as the immigration issue comes to a head. Twenty Republicans have signed a “discharge” petition to force a debate … on a series of immigration bills … Its backers … said … that they expect to have enough signers by the end of the week.
Ryan has tried to block the discharge petition because a vote to protect dreamers will enrage conservatives. But with moderates keeping up the pressure, he may not be able to stop it.
* WHY THE HARD RIGHT FEARS AN IMMIGRATION VOTE: With the discharge petition on the dreamers slowly getting closer, Carl Hulse gets at why conservatives are so alarmed:
The internal momentum for an immigration vote has alarmed the hard-right, often uncompromising members of the House Freedom Caucus. They correctly fear that a combination of Democrats and Republicans could propel a measure protecting the undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers to passage if it reaches the floor.
There is majority support in the House for protecting the dreamers, and there is majority support in the country for it, too. Conservatives must prevent a vote at all costs.
* CONSERVATIVES RAGE OVER DREAMERS: Politico reports that conservatives are so furious about this discharge petition that they want GOP leaders to threaten the moderates who are pushing it:
Conservatives are so desperate to stop the discharge petition that they’re suggesting Ryan strong-arm moderates to get them to back down … Leaders should consider revoking National Republican Congressional Committee financial help or other perks to keep moderates from forcing the issue, several have said. Such a move would be devastating for those centrists.
Conservatives will stop at nothing to prevent a vote on a constructive immigration solution.
* AND BANNON PREDICTS TRUMP WILL FIRE ROSENSTEIN: The Hill’s Niall Stanage gets an advance look at an interview that Stephen K. Bannon did that will be broadcast today:
Bannon predicts that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could be fired “very shortly,” in an interview that will be broadcast Wednesday evening in the United Kingdom. … Bannon said that Rosenstein “either … is going to take the direct order of the president of the United States or I think Rosenstein will be fired.”
Bannon also said that “Trump is on the ballot in every congressional district,” which I’m sure will meet with robust agreement among Democrats.