Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Assault on Mueller

Under attack. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Under attack. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine
15 December 17
atience, I guess. Patience.

On my iPhone, which I’m trying not to look at, I have three sites tucked away to check when I’m having a bad Trump day. There’s the Gallup approval chart, FiveThirtyEight’s poll of polls, and Real Clear Politics’ graphic of Trump polling. They sit there like little squares of visual Xanax whenever the anxiety of living in a country run by a delusional rage-aholic gets a bit too much. And they’re all looking good.

Squinting at Nate’s blurry orange and green, it looks to me as if the gulf between approval and disapproval is widening still further. Around 20 points this week.

Twenty! RCP — a little less smoothed-out — shows an even starker low. And then Virginia and now Alabama. And the Democratic flood of potential candidates for 2018, especially women. And that moment Drudge (peace be upon him) called “Brokeback Virginia” when the crusty old bigot, Roy Moore, rode in on a horse to his electoral defeat, looking about as comfortable as I would be, perched up there, cowboy boots akimbo. If it weren’t all so tragic, we’d be laughing our asses off.

And yet this still feels like a phony oasis. A huge majority of Republicans stuck with Moore and Trump last Tuesday. And we’ve learned one new and sickening thing this past month: Republican tribalism demands that the Mueller investigation be aggressively smeared in advance, its findings preemptively discredited, and its lawyers smeared for political loyalties, even when there is no evidence that this is affecting the special counsel’s work. In much of Trump media, Mueller’s alleged corruption and bias are fast becoming an article of faith. Night after night on Fox, it’s an endless diatribe against the special counsel, a constant drumbeat of propaganda about a “tainted probe.” Central to it is that waddling eminence, Newt Gingrich, who is openly arguing that Mueller is engineering some kind of coup against the will of the Trump masses.

This is not just from the media fever swamps. Take even formerly “Never Trump” National Review, which this week gave prominent space to an essay that draws this conclusion: “By now there are simply too many coincidental conflicts of interest and too much improper investigatory behavior to continue to give the Mueller investigation the benefit of doubt. Each is a light straw; together, they now have broken the back of the probe’s reputation.” The House Judiciary Committee’s grilling of Rod Rosenstein this week also revealed a near-universal Republican consensus that the investigation is rigged. E.J. Dionne recently noted “the statement of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, that if every member of Mueller’s team who was ‘anti-Trump’were kicked off, ‘I don’t know if there’d be anyone left.’” Jordan also declared that “the public trust in this whole thing is gone.” Ben Wittes is rightly worried that the House Republicans “are braying for actions inimical to the very idea of independent law enforcement. They are doing it about someone, Mueller, with whom they have long experience and about whom they know their essential claims to be false.”

The best news from Alabama is that the right’s strategy of constantly upping the ante, of mainlining tribalism so that the completely indefensible becomes a badge of honor, has reached an apparent limit. It took an alleged teen predator with contempt for the Constitution and nostalgia for the Confederacy to get us there, but we now know there is some kind of backstop. And so if Trump decides to wage war against Mueller, and pits his own ego against bedrock principles of the rule of law, there’s a chance he won’t quite get away with it. About a 51–49 chance. Our system of government — whatever today’s polling numbers — is hanging by roughly that margin.

And they say Alabama was a nail-biter.

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