The End of the Beginning
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Robert Mueller’s own legal work is completed and his report has been submitted. He concluded that Russia did interfere in the 2016 American election. President Trump did not conspire with the Russians. When the actual report will be submitted to Congress remains unclear, but most observers suggest that while there will be a tug of war, the report itself ultimately will be released. Only then will the Congress and the public have a clear picture of what the Special Counsel discovered. So far, the letter from Attorney General William Barr to Congress is all the information that anyone has seen.
For President Trump there is no question that at this point he has clearly dodged the bullet. Yet, the President was unable to address the language of the letter correctly, stating within an hour of its release, that Mueller exonerated him from all wrong-doing; something specifically Barr quoted Mueller as having not said.
On the legal front there will undoubtedly be many more days in Court. Many of the known and yet to be disclosed participants, will be facing various Government lawyers from the Justice Department, the Southern District of New York, several federal courts in California, as well as New York State Courts. Unwinding these matters will take months, so the Trump family and the President are hardly finished with their legal battles. This does not even address the distinct possibility that the President will likely stonewall releasing materials from the Mueller report by invoking executive privilege.
The Congress, especially the Democratically controlled House will now proceed with a number of investigations, many of which had been on hold while Mueller’s team was finishing their work. Beginning with testimony from the Attorney General, there will be extensive hearings and investigations with regard to possible obstruction of justice by members of the Administration. At this juncture there is virtually no likelihood of impeachment.
On the political front that the President has gained points and changed the landscape for the Democrats; especially the numerous presidential aspirants who are seeking to ensure that Trump is a one term president. The President’s solid base–35-40% of the public—has now been locked-in with yesterday’s decision. Many of the 2016 Trump supporters who might have drifted away from the President over the past two years will now reconsider very seriously returning to the fold as result of Sunday’s announcement. While everything will ultimately depend on the specific states where these voters reside, Trump’s possible re-election certainly received a boost.
The Democrats must now immediately return to the electoral map and stop having internal ideological and policy debates. The party must review how they can put together the 270 electoral votes they will need in November 2020. They need to determine in which states any waffling Trump voters can be secured. Democrats must focus on the bottom-line, hardcore policy issues; improving healthcare, drug benefits, opioid crisis, and overall costs, not dangling “medicare for all” which will be distorted and pilloried by Republicans.
Democrats will need a moderate, left of center message and a non-polarizing candidate. They should focus on finding the candidate for 2020 who can take Trump’s heat and dish it back. (This will be true at the state and local level as well.) Their message must be distinct and explicit especially in the key states which they must carry. This strategy will alienate some of the more progressive voices in the Democratic Party, but Trump will win if there is a fierce internecine rivalry in the run-up to the nomination. Finally, Democrats need to ensure that they avoid having a serious challenge emerge from a disgruntled candidate on the left who will run and upset a potentially very tight race in a number of key states.