The Russia Temptation
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Democrat from Minnesota, uttered a forlorn sentiment at the Center for American Politics conference this week. She said Democrats canât spend all their time bemoaning President Donald Trumpâs existence and that her voters care more about soybean exports than Russian bots.
Sheâs right, but good luck getting anyone to listen. If Democrats have a disappointing November, their consuming Russian obsession will have something to do with it.
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With special counsel Robert Muellerâs net allegedly closing in and the investigation having taken a lurid turn by broadening out to the Stormy Daniels affair, there are now reputable polls showing Trump at 44 percent. This doesnât mean heâs in hale and hearty condition, but his standing is markedly better than six months ago, raising the question: Why didnât he think of getting embroiled in a fight with a porn star earlier?
Scandal politics is always very tempting, and the left, especially TV personalities like Rachel Maddow, have given in to it utterly. Its allure is understandable:
Itâs easy. You donât have to do any of the hard work of public persuasion or re-examine any of your assumptions. Robert Mueller is your deus ex machina.
It creates the delicious possibility of your adversaries not just being defeated or humiliated, but being ruined and sent to jail. âLock them up.â
It transforms politics into a legal whodunit, with the Trump administration not just the locus of politics and policies you abhor, but an active crime scene to be tantalizingly dissected clue by clue.
It offers the promise of vindicating your core belief that the 2016 election wasnât lost but stolen from you. Winning the midterms wouldnât be nearly as emotionally satisfying as righting the presumed wrong of Trumpâs election by exposing the malefactors truly responsible for it.
This mind-set insists that everything has to be, at bottom, a legal matter, not a political or moral question.
So, when Trump denies he reimbursed Michael Cohen, it could lead to legal trouble. When he admits he reimbursed Michael Cohen, it could lead to legal trouble. Itâs never enough to say he had an affair with a porn star, paid her off and was dishonest about it, which would seem embarrassing and blameworthy enough. No, there has to be the prospect of him and people around him getting caught up in th e grinding machinery of prosecution.
Republicans adopted the same view in the 1990s. If they could affix the scandal suffix â-gateâ to any matter (Troopergate, Filegate), they thought they had hit gold. Bill Clinton was indeed staggered by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, with his presidency briefly threatened when Senate Democrats went wobbly, but once they stabilized and it was clear the partyâs base wouldnât abandon him, he was home free. The public ended up caring more about the benign material conditions of the 1990s than his appalling conduct and attendant legal problems.
Many elected Democrats, per Amy Klobuchar, seem to realize that the most politically promising attack against Trump is as a stereotypical Republican plutocrat implementing all the same textbook GOP policies, rather than as a Kremlin tool. But left-wing cable personalities, much of the mainstream press, and the Democratic base are much too vested in Russia to ease off, and the amount of atten tion they devote to it is overwhelming.
The Mueller probe has been covered like itâs a major scandal, with every scrap of new information treated as a missing 18 Â½ minutes-level revelation, when it is only an investigation. It holds the possibility of uncovering a major scandal â" if one exists. A symptom of the Russia obsession is to consider that a given, when there is not yet any public proof.
One theory about Trump has been that heâs a master at creating distractions, i.e., every other eruption on Twitter is designed to draw attention away from some unwelcome story. But even he couldnât have devised a better way to keep reliable progressive mouthpieces on a topic that is less potent than the issues-based attack on him and could yet prove a dry hole.
That is what his opposition is doing to itself, because it canât resist the scandal temptation.