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From victory to vengeance: Trump scents blood in 2020 fight

Time:2018-01-06 Views:347


It felt like a victory lap. At a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday night, surrounded by a sea of red Make America Great Again hats, a defiant Donald Trump held the podium before a raucous crowd.

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“After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead,” the president declared in a 90-minute speech.

Basking after the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which clouded the first two years of his presidency, Trump falsely claimed “total exoneration”.

He vowed retaliation against some of his sharpest critics and suggested consequences for the media were in order. He spoke of doing away with Barack Obama’s healthcare law. And he threatened to shut down the US-Mexico border as early as next week.

It was a stark reminder of how Trump views his executive authority and a glimpse of his looming fight for re-election.

He is much more likely to be re-elected today than he seemed at the end of last week

Michael Steel

“He is much more likely to be re-elected today than he seemed at the end of last week,” said Michael Steel, a Republican operative who was an aide to former House speaker John Boehner. “I think that Democratic oversight activities will continue, but this definitely took the wind out of their sails.”

However, Trump’s legal perils are far from over. According to a short letter to Congress by attorney general William Barr, the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election did not clear Trump of wrongdoing. Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, specifically stating that his report “does not exonerate” the president.

Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between Trump aides and Moscow, which the president said supported his longstanding claim of “no collusion”. Left unclear was what the special counsel had to say of repeated contacts between Trump associates and Russian nationals, and lies to prosecutors about such communications.

On Friday, Barr said that by mid-April he would make public a redacted versionof the Mueller report, which is nearly 400 pages long. The attorney general faced criticism after drawing his own conclusion, in his letter to Congress, that Mueller did not have sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice.

In a second letter released on Friday, Barr said his initial assessment was not intended to be a summary of the Mueller report and that the American public “would soon be able to read it on their own”.

Trump nonetheless seized on Barr’s rendering of the Mueller report.

“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, some bad things, I would say some treasonous things against our country,” Trump told reporters last Sunday. “And hopefully people that have done such harm to our country – we’ve gone through a period of really bad things happening – those people will certainly be looked at. I’ve been looking at them for a long time.”

On Fox News, Trump’s most prominent boosters chimed in.

“This must be a day of reckoning for the media, for the deep state, for people who abuse power, and they did it so blatantly in this country,” said Sean Hannity, who ranks among Trump’s closest allies.

It could be a reset but it’s not going to be, because the president is congenially incapable of resetting

Rick Tyler

“If we do not get this right, if we do not hold these people accountable, I promise you, with all the love I can muster for this country and our future for our kids and grandkids, we will lose the greatest country God has ever given man. We will lose it.”

Initial polls showed little change in public perception of the Mueller investigation or potential wrongdoing by Trump.

CNN survey found nearly 60% of Americans believed Congress should continue to investigate, while 56% said they did not believe Trump had been exonerated of collusion, even though Barr’s letter said the special counsel could not establish a criminal conspiracy. Perhaps most tellingly, 86% said the findings would not affect their vote in 2020.

“The political divide is virtually the same,” said Rick Tyler, a former aide to Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. “If you didn’t like Trump before, you don’t like him anymore now. If you like Trump, you still like him.”

“It could be a reset but it’s not going to be, because the president is congenially incapable of resetting.”

‘The party of healthcare’

Indeed, in the immediate wake of what some called the best week of his presidency, Trump returned to the impulsive style of governing that has prompted disorder and left his own party flatfooted.

In a major shift, the administration announced on Wednesday it would back a legal effort to fully invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare, a move that would threaten healthcare coverage for millions of Americans, an issue which proved central to November’s midterm elections, in which Democrats regained the House.

At his Michigan rally Trump renewed his call to toss out the ACA, insisting Republicans would come to be known as the ‘party of healthcare’.

At his Michigan rally Trump renewed his call to toss out the ACA, insisting Republicans would come to be known as the ‘party of healthcare’. Photograph: Paul Sancya/AP

Trump’s move came over the objections of Barr and Alex Azar, his health secretary. The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, reportedly told Trump the move made no sense, given Republicans do not have a plan to replace the ACA and would be unable to move legislation.

“Members feel like [the Mueller report announcement] was great and Trump stepped all over that message with the Obamacare lawsuit announcement,” a House GOP aide told Axios.

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Tyler said: “While I can argue lots of different structures that would be better than Obamacare, that would be like overthrowing a foreign government with no replacement government. The result would be chaos.”

Undaunted, at his Michigan rally Trump renewed his call to toss out the ACA, insisting Republicans would come to be known as the “party of healthcare”. And he didn’t stop there.

Trump also vowed to shut down the Mexico border “next week”, a move that would do significant damage to the US economy. Mexico is a vital trading partner but Trump complained it was not doing enough to stop illegal immigration.

Trump received familiar support from Fox. But other Republicans warned Trump not to jeopardize an otherwise positive moment.

“I think it’s a good thing for America that a detailed and thorough investigation concluded that the president of the United States is not a witting or unwitting agent of a foreign power,” said Steel.

“I do think there’s some danger that in the hubris of his response, the president makes mistakes.”

• This article was amended on 1 April 2019. Due to an editing error, Michael Steel’s family name was misspelled as Steele in a pullquote.