Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The guilty verdict brought down yesterday by the Virginia District Court against Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen’s guilty plea announced by the District Court in New York eventually will be seen as the moment the Trump gig began to fall apart. While there are many more mountains still to climb and battles to be waged, the wagons may now indeed begin to encircle the President.
Donald Trump never operated in a situation in his public or even personal life where he was not always in total control or able to manipulate. Never has he been in a situation where there were legitimate outside forces which he could not contain and manage. While the President still may have many options—firing Mueller, issuing pardons, etc.—the events yesterday seemed to suggest that nothing is going to stop the inevitable.
Nothing will happen until after the mid-term elections. The Special Counsel, in fact, has indicated that, so as not to interfere any further in these elections, he will not bring down any new indictments after September 1. The Republicans and the Democrats now have some very important decisions before them.
In order to maximize their leverage after the mid-terms, the Democrats need to ensure that they indeed win back the House and perhaps even the Senate. They need to define their campaign on substantive issues and not strictly run against Trump. The Dems need to permit the Mueller investigation to speak for itself. If yesterday was any indication, there will be much to comment on without their needing to lead the attack. Failure to contain themselves could energize Trump’s more ambivalent base as well as some independents rather than lull them into a sense of complacency before November.
Republicans, both incumbents and those running in open seats, need to determine how much support they want from the President during the campaign; how much of an asset or liability he is to them. It will be especially difficult for those in marginal or swing seats where the President will want to campaign and where his presence may well have the exact opposite effect on the electorate.
This maneuvering will set the stage for the post-election jockeying. Should the Democrats gain control of the House they will be relentless in their investigations of the President with impeachment ever a possibility. It will also be the moment of truth for the Republican Party, its leaders, and elected officials. Will they be prepared to say in public what many already have been saying in private about the President? Will their political skin now be better saved by disassociating themselves from Trump rather than crawling under their desks or will they continue to kowtow to his every whim out of fear of retribution?
If the GOP retains control of the House, the President Trump will be relentless in his attacks against his opponents. He will drive his base forward against those who challenged him. He will then fire Mueller without a minute’s hesitation. The road to the 2020 campaign will be littered with Trump’s victims and the Democrats probably will have lost their chance to prevent his re-election.