Stephen Miller, the Trump kingdom’s Immigration Iago, wants you to believe that his boss retains great leverage in the ongoing government shutdown fight — so much so that he will, repeat will, get his great border wall. Miller, a top White House adviser, said Sunday that President Trump will “do whatever is necessary” to force Democrats to cough up the $5 billion he wants for the wall and will “absolutely” shut down the government to get it.
In reality, it’s not even clear that Trump has sufficient Republican support to get his wall money out of Congress. The New York Times now reports that Republicans aren’t even sure that this funding would pass the House, because many Republicans who were defeated in the midterms might not bother showing up to vote for it.
Wait, this cannot be! Miller, after all, spent much of his “Face the Nation” appearance excoriating Democrats over the wall. Democrats have instead offered far less in border security funding, with restrictions against spending it for that purpose. Miller suggested Democrats have the weaker position, claiming they must “choose to fight for America’s working class, or to promote illegal immigration.”
Wow, what a powerful message! That must be the same message that carried Trump and House Republicans to a great midterms victory! Oh wait, the opposite happened. This has gone down the memory hole, but last spring, Miller vowed that precisely this same contrast on immigration would prove potent for Republicans. They ran the most virulently xenophobic nationalist campaign in memory — and lost the House by the largest raw-vote margin in midterm elections history.
The meta-message that Miller hoped to convey is that Trump retains formidable strength in the shutdown battle over the wall, but the real story right now is that Trump is weakened. He lacks leverage in the shutdown fight, and it’s plausible that he’s losing influence over congressional Republicans.
The rage-tweets look increasingly pathetic
Trump’s rage-tweets about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation are looking increasingly pathetic and impotent. On Sunday night, Trump blustered that “people are starting to see and understand what this Witch Hunt is all about,” as if he’s winning the argument over the investigation through sheer force of tweet.
Yet a new NBC News poll demonstrates with remarkable clarity that Trump is decisively losing that argument. It finds that 62 percent of Americans think Trump has not told the truth about the Mueller investigation, while a meager 34 percent think he has — in other words, a huge majority understands that Trump’s been lying his head off about it. Half say Mueller’s investigation has given them more doubts about the Trump presidency. And 55 percent support Democrats opening “a number of investigations” into the administration — and, crucially, into Trump himself.
Meanwhile, The Post offers a striking overview of the totality of the investigations Trump currently faces. They include civil lawsuits and investigations digging into Trump’s business holdings, his charity, his inaugural committee, and, of course, into his campaign’s possible conspiracy with Russia. The upshot: “Nearly every organization he has led in the past decade is under investigation.”
Or, as Wired’s Garrett Graff puts it, as we head into 2019, Trump “faces a legal assault unlike anything previously seen by any president.”
Giuliani’s new and very weak defense of Trump
The legal defenses on Trump’s behalf are looking increasingly hapless as well. Trump’s TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and responded to the news that Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen has asserted that Trump directed criminal hush-money payments to women who alleged affairs during the campaign.
Giuliani referred back to that now-infamous recording that Cohen made of his conversation with Trump, in which they discussed setting up a vehicle to make one of the payments. Giuliani noted that Trump had directed Cohen to pay by check (which is unclear, but put that aside for now) and then claimed this shows Trump did not want to “hide something,” since he made the payment traceable. Giuliani added that this “exonerates” Trump.
I ran this by Bob Bauer, the White House counsel under President Barack Obama. He noted that the establishment of the shell company and the fact that Cohen and Trump himself both lied about the payments already show an attempt to conceal. “It is hard to understand the basis for Mr. Giuliani’s claim that there is no evidence that the president wanted to hide anything,” Bauer told me.
Bottom line: Trump has now been directly implicated in a crime and likely faces indictment for it. We don’t yet know if Trump will actually end up being criminally liable. But we absolutely do know, thanks to the latest Cohen revelations, that Trump is not in any way “exonerated” from wrongdoing. He defrauded the voters with the hush-money payments, as he also did by concealing his financial dealings with Russia during the campaign — and lied to cover up both these things.
Incentives for Republicans supporting Trump are weakening
On still another front, seven Senate Republicans joined with Democrats last week to vote to end the U.S. involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen, a resounding rebuke of Trump. While there’s still a long slog ahead on this, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein notes that this sort of cracking is an important signal. Trump’s mounting legal travails raise bigger question marks for Republicans about how much worse this could get, leaving them with fewer reasons to stick with him:
The incentives for supporting Trump that have held since his election have suddenly become a lot weaker. In mid-July of 1974, President Richard Nixon could still count on virtually every conservative Republican in Congress to oppose his impeachment and removal, even if they weren’t exactly thrilled with him. By early August, he had only a handful of supporters remaining. That’s not to say that Trump’s support will necessarily evaporate — just that if it does, it could happen extremely quickly, perhaps in days.
Which brings us back to the shutdown fight. House Democrats have already begun working on legislation that would reopen the government in the new year — minus wall money — should Trump force a shutdown. The idea is that Trump would own the shutdown and then Democrats would be the ones to push the solution that reopens it once in the majority — and challenge Senate Republicans and Trump to oppose it.
Given how deeply unpopular the wall is — and given that it doesn’t even have sufficient Republican support — the incentives all align with Democrats holding the line. Especially with Trump’s weaknesses mounting on so many other fronts.