Some observations post the commentary:
1. The release of the Report is national and international news, but there is no evidence it will change many views of President Trump or his White House. Neither public opinion nor Republican opinion has moved since the March 24 delivery of Attorney General Barr’s four-page memo on the Report. Trump still has 44 percent overall support and 85 percent among Republicans.
The immediate reporting of the Report’s contents has been mostly negative, focused on obstruction and many reports of White House dishonesty, paranoia and chaos. But, the release was shaped by Barr’s preceding press conference and his earlier letter. With no underlying crime and obstruction not charged, the Republicans, including those who must run with him in 2020, are relieved.
2. History suggests that the circumstances of the political era shapes the political impact of special prosecutors’ reports. The release of the Starr Report in 1999 simply sent the parties to their respective corners. Bill Clinton remained popular and Democrats argued there was no underlying crime unrelated to bad judgement (sex) in the Oval Office.
Whereas the release of the Watergate tapes in 1994 destroyed the Nixon presidency. But by then, Richard Nixon’s popularity was about 38 percent nationally and barely 50 percent among Republicans. Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and Nixon was a lame duck. Today’s polarized political environment links to 1999 more than 1974.
3. What type of Democratic candidate might benefit from the Report’s revelations? An outsider-type was speculated as helped. True, but in the 1976 and 2000 elections post Nixon and Clinton, respectively, the candidates seen as most opposite the damaged incumbent were selected. Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both promised to bring moral rectitude and decorum to the White House. Both were outspokenly religious in sentiment.
Is Pete Buttigieg the smart mayor; Kamala Harris the tough prosecutor; or John Hickenlooper and his positive campaign the alternative most desired?
4. After the Report, the ball is now in the Democrats’ court. The legislative leadership has made clear they don’t want to move to impeachment less than a year from primaries and less than two years from the election, but pressure from the activist base will be intense. The media will continue to highlight the Report’s evidence of gross, if not criminal, misbehavior.
The Democrats are looking for a strategy that keeps the issues alive, but avoids the appearance of overreach, which the President and his legislative and media supporters will claim nonstop.
- Demand the full report
- Have Mueller, Barr and especially McGahn testify
- Proceed to question his taxes, probe agencies and other aspects of the administration
The final conclusion as of Easter weekend: the game is not over. There is no complete or total exoneration, but the Trump presidency continues and most likely the election will provide the judgement on Trump and his administration. In which case, the Democrats still need to worry about the quality of their candidates and their programs.