The Mueller Report is Great News
I’m writing a slightly different kind of piece this week. While the point of this site is to do deeper dives on politics and government that go beyond the week’s news, at times, the news of the week and an exploration of underlying political dynamics converge. So, this week, a quick take.
The first thing Democrats should have said upon hearing the findings of the Mueller report was: “thank goodness.” Forget partisan politics. As an American, I am downright thankful that Robert Mueller did not find out that our President actively conspired with our adversaries.
Think about it. What if Mueller had found new smoking guns? What if he showed that we had elected a Manchurian Candidate? What a horror story for our country, on top of the horrible first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Play it out. With any solid evidence of conspiracy, the House would have had almost no choice but to impeach. The trial in the Senate would have been a national nightmare. If the evidence were absolutely ironclad, perhaps Senate Republicans would have voted to convict (and by the way, we would then have President Pence, and in today’s polarized environment, the Republicans would have a real shot to retain the Presidency in 2020…so how much better off would Democrats feel then).
But absent that, we might have ended up in the absolute worst-case scenario: partisan lines hardening into granite and a total destruction of faith in the credibility of our government institutions. It is hard for me to think of non-alarming endgames for that path.
I know, I know: many Democrats feel that what the evidence shows Donald Trump and his campaign did was still pretty darn close to conspiracy, and that they certainly took full advantage of Russian skulduggery; and beyond that, that Mueller was inconclusive on obstruction of justice. I should know, I am one of those Democrats. But there is a clear difference between Donald Trump acting in a sleazy, unpatriotic, borderline criminal way, and outright palpable treason. There just is.
In terms of the underlying politics, first off, a version of the good news element of this should have been the first thing out of Democrats’ mouths—though it’s not too late to say it. In the next 18 months, White House allies will double down on the “this was all a witch hunt” narrative. So reminding people that the investigation was about duty to the higher purpose of protecting our country, rather than partisan motivation, is the best antidote. By the way, it is an investigation that resulted in 34 indictments and multiple convictions, shedding light on Russian and American wrongdoing and removing bad actors from positions of power. That is a good thing for America.
But far more important, as others have pointed out, strategically Democrats do not want to be fighting the 2020 election on the strength of their investigations or the basic grounds that “Donald Trump is terrible and unfit to serve.” It might be true, but they already made that argument and lost, and the facts about Donald Trump are already baked into the political cake.
Democrats have already shown that they are far better served to choose the terms of the engagement (on reforming government, health care, the economy, education, our alliances, etc.), not be dictated to by Trump’s outrage of the week. That’s how they successfully navigated the 2018 election, and it’s the best chance in 2020. You could already see them pivoting this morning.
The bottom line is that all Americans should be grateful for what Mueller found. And for Democrats, while it is hard to bear, there is no shortcut to defeating Donald Trump. What is needed now is patience and hard work.