Let’s begin by agreeing that the Barr summary of the Mueller report is devastating for Democrats, anti-Trumpists and, I’d argue, for all Americans.
That said, we can now get on with our lives, which, sadly, are still wrapped very tightly in the disaster that is the Trump presidency. In other words, much has changed and nothing has changed. We just keep trudging on.
I don’t know if Donald Trump has read the Mueller report — guessing it might be too long for the short-fingered, short-attention-span president — but I think we can assume he knows basically what it’s in it and that it might not be as bright and cheery as the spin Attorney General William Barr put on it.
Here’s my evidence:
One, instead of just reveling in the Barr summary of the report, Trump spent the day after its release angrily calling critics who pursued the Russia investigation “treasonous” and saying they should be investigated. It’s nuts, of course, but it’s the next step in the propaganda tour against whatever bad news for Trump is actually in the report, which is expected to be released in some form.
Oddly, though, when Trump, who has called Bob Mueller a liar and far worse, was asked if he thought Mueller had acted honorably, he said that he had. Does that mean there was no witch hunt? Does that mean Trump owes Mueller an apology? Just kidding on the apology part — this is simply what we know as the Trumpian cognitive dissonance continuum. By the way, since Trump is off the hook in the short term, it’s also probably bad news for any Trump aide hoping for a pardon.
Two, even as Republicans gloat, Trump knows that the impact of the report — as well as that to come from continuing state and federal prosecutions on top of whatever we learn from the Dem-controlled House investigatory committees — is far from over. Presumably Barr and Mueller will both be subpoenaed to testify in front of at least one House committee. And one point that will be made repeatedly is that Mueller, re Barr, found that Russians aggressively tried to help Trump win the 2016 election while Trump, we know, stood meekly by Vladimir Putin and said he trusted Putin’s word that he hadn’t.
Trump also knows that he and his henchpeople have consistently lied about their contacts with Russians. Some are even going to prison for lying about them. The question remains: Why did they lie? Here’s hoping the report sheds more light on that. Meanwhile, The New York Times writes that a cloud has been lifted from the Trump presidency. I’d agree that the sun has briefly broken through, but who doesn’t believe the clouds will make a strong comeback?
Three, and this is the critical point, that in the post-Barr-summary era, Trump will still be Trump. Today, tomorrow and forever more. He will remain the unprecedented Trump, for whom all models of behavior do not apply. Trump is sui generis, which is a good thing and very much a not-so-good thing. We don’t know yet what this report will mean for the 2020 election cycle. But we can be certain that Trump’s behavior will continue to enrage a majority of the electorate right up to November 2020 — which, as we saw in 2016, still doesn’t mean he won’t win. But as Steve Bannon put it, now that the Mueller investigation is complete. Trump will go “full animal.” I’m struggling to pull up the image.
If this were over, Trump could have simply declared victory and left it there. Instead Trump called the summary of the undisclosed report a total exoneration even as Barr, in his letter, says it was not, in fact, an exoneration, total or otherwise. So, Trump lies. Barr sighs. And anti-Trumpists desperately search for a reason to believe.
But let’s assume for the moment that the obstruction of justice part of the report looks pretty bad for Trump — a fair assumption, given Barr’s summary — and that we will probably learn more, say, about the Russian meeting with Don Jr. and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. And more about Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi and the rest. More about Wikileaks. More about the Trump Tower.
And as for collusion, it’s fair to ask, as Washington Post anti-Trumpist columnist Max Boot does: If Mueller determined that Trump had not “conspired: or “coordinated” with the Russians, isn’t it obvious, from Trump’s own statements, that he welcomed Russian interference?
At this point, Trump has won a huge political victory — there’s really no argument there — and Democrats and other anti-Trumpists who thought this report would somehow lead to Trump’s impeachment and then removal from office have to re-examine all their premises.
The impeach-and-replace movement was never going to happen. In the case of Donald J. Trump, there probably can’t be a Nixon-like smoking gun. Look, we’ve already seen so much smoke, and we’ve also seen that nothing — politically anyway — seems to change.
Trump’s Fifth Avenue shooting hypothesis still holds. You could see the strength of the hypothesis on the stump, both in the 2018 midterms and in the 2019 presidential primary, as most Democratic candidates have spoken little about Russia. Nancy Pelosi wisely counseled against impeachment.
And here’s a guess: The most meaningful consequence of the Barr summary of the Mueller report will be that, for wounded Democrats, the electability question will become ever more important in the long, long, long slog to select a candidate to oppose Trump. The only way to get rid of Trump, after all, is to defeat him.