Two new polls suggest that President Trump’s rhetoric does not conceal how unpopular his actions (or lack thereof) regarding Russia are — and how mired in scandal he has already become.
In the new Politico-Morning Consult poll, “Forty-one percent of registered voters polled from March 2 through March 6 said the Russian Federation influenced the race between President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, up 9 points from a December poll. Overall, the electorate is split on the issue, with 42 percent of voters saying the former Cold War adversary did not influence the election.” Worse than that, “Fifty-seven percent of respondents (including 76 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents) said they strongly or somewhat support Congress or the Justice Department assigning an outside investigator to probe communications between Trump associates and the Russian government.” As for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “Thirty-eight percent of voters said Sessions lied, while 29 percent said he told the truth, and 32 percent said they did not know or had no opinion. Half of GOP voters said Sessions told the truth, while 60 percent of Democrats said he lied. Thirty-four percent of independent voters said Sessions lied, while 23 percent said he was truthful.” When only half of Republicans think the attorney general is truthful, that’s a problem.
Worse news comes from the most recent Quinnipiac University poll:
American voters say 52 – 40 percent that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath during his confirmation hearings and say 51 – 42 percent that he should resign, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.
Voters disapprove 54 – 32 percent of the way President Donald Trump is handling U.S. policy towards Russia. … American voters support 66 – 30 percent an “independent commission investigating potential links between some of Donald Trump’s campaign advisors and the Russian government.” The only listed party, gender, age or racial group opposed is Republicans, opposed 64 – 30 percent.
A total of 61 percent are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about President Trump’s relationship with Russia. A total of 62 percent of voters say alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election is a “very important” or “somewhat important” issue.
It would be interesting to see the percentage of Americans who think former president Barack Obama wiretapped Trump, but the numbers we already have should be sobering for Trump and his supporters.
Both from a political standpoint and an operational standpoint, Trump would benefit if Sessions resigned. His presence only diminishes the administration’s credibility and reminds us daily of the Russia scandal. Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who has more than two decades of experience as a prosecutor and no political ties to Trump, would be a fine substitute. That may not be enough to restore public trust in the Justice Department. If Trump really has nothing to hide, he — and Republicans sick of answering questions — would be wise to shove this entire mess off onto the plate of a special prosecutor. Republicans look dense or dishonest trying to maintain the fiction that Trump’s wild allegation might have merit. They would likely celebrate an end to the constant inquiries. How nice it would be to say, “Talk to the special prosecutor.”
Finally, the underlying problem of Russia policy has not gone away. Perhaps out of fear of inflaming the scandal (or because Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said it), Trump has not lifted sanctions. However, neither have we enacted new sanctions, as Congress promised in response to the election interference. Russian President Vladimir Putin has paid no penalty for his gambit. The public might have more confidence in Trump’s foreign policy if he had one.
Trump does not appear to have any Russia policy whatsoever. What steps is he prepared to take to shore up NATO? Will there be consequences for alleged cheating on nuclear arms deals? Are we still content to let Russia (and Iran) effectively control Syria?
Yes, Trump has been in office less than seven weeks, but one would think the transition team would have handed off recommendations to begin implementing as soon as Trump took office. Instead, Tillerson is invisible and still has not named a deputy or other senior staff to even begin the confirmation process. Look down the list of top posts, and the vast majority are “vacant” or filled by an “acting” person. It’s hard to make and implement policy without an experienced secretary, senior officials or a president who understands that foreign policy is more than conducting chitchat with foreign leaders. On the positive side, we are not giving up (yet) any more ground (figuratively) to Vladimir Putin, but neither are we shifting gears from the Obama years. The Trump administration’s foreign policy is adrift, without direction or purpose. That hardly constitutes a revival of American leadership in the world.