In a weeks-long assault on the FBI, the Justice Department, former FBI director James B. Comey, Hillary Clinton, the Russia investigation and, of course, the media, President Trump and his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani have offered up plenty of baseless accusations and hysterical rhetoric. But their attack on the Russia probe has not affected those unmoved by baseless accusations and hysterical rhetoric. As with practically every other issue, Trump is making his wackadoodle base more estranged from reality, but he’s not developing a political coalition that would help him survive a possibly withering report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that would either recommend impeachment or indict Trump.
Overall, most Americans (55%) say they are either very (28%) or somewhat (27%) confident that Mueller will conduct a fair investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Four-in-ten say they are not too (19%) or not at all confident (21%) in his ability to do this.
The public expresses less confidence in Trump. Just 41% say they are very or somewhat confident that he will handle matters related to the special counsel investigation appropriately, while most (57%) say they are not too or not at all confident that he will do this.
Support for Mueller has edged down slightly as Republicans ginned up by Trump has turned more anti-Mueller. However, the decline is only four percentage points, and Democratic and independent support for Mueller has been constant.
Predictably, the split in opinion follows the usual partisan divide. Women and young voters are also more likely to have confidence in Mueller, and “those with a college degree are 29 points more likely to express confidence in Mueller than in Trump (63% vs. 34%); among postgraduates the gap is 37 points (69% vs. 32%).”
Trump hasn’t convinced the voters the Russia investigation is a “hoax.” To the contrary, 64 percent say it is very or somewhat important, compared with 34 percent who say it is not too or not at all important. Within the GOP, the more conservative a voter, the more likely he or she is to believe in the “It’s all a hoax!” hooey — “self-described moderates and liberals are more likely to say the investigation is important than are conservatives (43% vs. 31%).”
The upshot of this is that Trump is unlikely to let up on a strategy that sustains him with Republicans. He needs to keep the number of senators who would consider impeachment as low as possible. He will therefore persist in an effort that makes him less credible with non-Kool-Aid-drinking voters.
Yet his strategy for avoiding impeachment increasingly contradicts a strategy for reelection. He needs the far-right cult to keep him going even as the other Americans shake their head in disbelief. Trump is dragging his party with him, forcing Republicans to double down on their support for him in the face of a growing mound of evidence (20 indictments of individuals and five plea deals) that there was massive wrongdoing on his campaign and during the transition.
Democrats would be wise to emphasize the indictments and plea deals that Mueller has already obtained to maintain support for continuing the investigation. If Trump refuses to sit for an interview — or worse, fights a subpoena with an argument that he’s above the law — Democrats will be able to widen their appeal both in 2018 and 2020. “The guy is out of control” is a winning argument or, more directly, “Trump is a threat to the rule of law.” And finally, Democrats would be wise to offer a reform program to address some of the issues we’ve already seen play out — for starters, a bar on White House interaction in specific enforcement and investigative matters, and a strict legislative prohibition on announcement of investigation of candidates for several months before an election (i.e., take the decision-making out of the hands of the next Comey thinking of reintroducing a legal matter 11 days before the election).
In short, as Trumpized Republicans look more unhinged, Democrats should seize the chance to be responsible guardians of our democracy.