Opinion writer

Suffolk University’s latest poll has reassuring news for those concerned about the rule of law:

A majority of Americans (55 percent) trust special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but 59 percent don’t trust President Donald Trump’s denial that his campaign was involved, according to a new Suffolk University/USA TODAY national poll. The survey also shows unfavorable views of President Donald Trump rising 6 points since June.

Fifty-eight percent of likely voters said they hold an unfavorable view of the president, compared to 52 percent in June, while his favorable rate has held steady at 40 percent since the early-summer poll. Trump’s job approval numbers tell a similar story, with 56 percent of voters either disapproving or strongly disapproving of his job performance, and 40 percent of voters saying they approve or strongly approve. . . . , with 57 percent saying that corruption in the nation’s capital has gotten worse under the Trump administration.

While Paul Manfort’s conviction on eight counts bolstered faith in Mueller, it’s surprising that the person who hurt Trump the most is none other than Michael Cohen. (“36 percent of voters said these convictions gave them more confidence in Mueller’s ongoing investigation, while 21 percent said less, and 35 percent said they had no effect.”). Voters seem to give a whole lot of weight to Cohen’s pointing to Trump as the man who directed the illegal campaign scheme with “61 percent saying that such legal developments raise significant questions about the president’s own behavior, while 27 percent said that the Cohen case has little to do with Trump.”

Now 69 percent have confidence in Mueller and want to complete his investigation. Trump’s effort to short-circuit the investigation likely will anger a large percentage of voters. By the same token, there is no groundswell for impeachment (47 percent don’t favor impeachment, 44 percent do). If either side overplays its hand, the voters are ready to pounce.

The good news here is that Trump’s ranting and raving have not befuddled those outside his core base of support. No matter how many times he hollers, “Witch Hunt!” most voters think “collusion.” The disconnect here is with Congress, where GOP majorities control both the House and Senate. Republicans reflect the thinking of the 30 percent of the electorate Trump has bamboozled all along. That leaves them with the president and cross-wise with voters who have figured out who is credible and who is not. (Convictions and plea deals certainly make an impression on people.)

The bad news here is that absent a smoking gun from Mueller or stunning evidence from the Southern District of New York (a distinct possibility with Trump personal lawyer and company CFO helping Mueller) or Trump’s resignation (keep his finances secret, spare his kids, grab a pardon from President Pence) Trump is going to finish his term. That means voters need the courts, press and Congress more than ever to stand up for the rule of law and keep Trump from making rash, illegal moves as his panic level rises.

In the short-run, Trump risks a firestorm and devastating midterm rout if he tries shutting down the investigation. Democrats wisely are not running on impeachment (which lacks majority support); polling suggests it’s quite sufficient to run as the party that will protect Mueller until the investigation concludes. Since Democrats are unlikely to ever have 67 votes to remove Trump, their best play is to use a majority, if they win big, in the House and/or Senate to protect Mueller while focusing on hearings, oversight and accountability. The widespread corruption that permeates every crevice of the administration makes for an attractive target. That might alarm Republicans, used to doing nothing to check the executive branch, but, I suspect, will make Democrats quite popular. Pursuing self-dealing, corruption and conflicts of interest should allow them to recapture the mantle of reform — and create a world of trouble for Trump and his cronies.