Put the away the fireworks, don’t uncork the champagne just yet.
Progressives, Democrats and countless other categories of Donald Trump critics have spent recent days rubbing their hands with glee.
After the president endured the worst political week of his presidency when his former campaign manager was found guilty of eight counts including tax fraud, and his former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to eight charges including making illegal campaign contributions, opponents of Trump are convinced he is now on the way out of the swinging doors of the White House.
The word impeachment has been trending on internet search engines and guests on TV networks such as the Democratic Party-supporting MSNBC have not even tried to hide their pleasure at the president’s discomfort.
One Democratic congressman, Al Green of Houston, who has previously filed articles of impeachment against Trump only to see them go nowhere, is threatening to bring more. “The president has to realise the countdown to impeachment has already started,” he warned.
Two things need to be said: Firstly, lots of people have previously written off Trump, convinced that a particular offence – whether it was insulting the Gold Star families who had lost a son in combat, or else boasting on camera about grabbing women’s genitals and getting away with it – would result in his demise.
Each time, they were wrong. Trump’s poll ratings, among Republicans and among his base, have barely fluttered more than a point or two. Right now, the latest Rasmussen Report puts his national approval rating at 46, with 53 disapproving.
But secondly, something serious did happen this week. Whether or not we come to look back at the fourth week of August 2018 as the inflection point that marked the downfall of Trump remains unclear. But as legal expert Jeffrey Toobin pointed out, Trump was accused in a federal court by a former ally of breaking the law. Trump has denied all of the allegations against him.
“There is one specific and one general thing that have changed,” Toobin told Slate. “The specific thing is that you have the president directly and explicitly accused of criminal conduct, which is very substantially different from where we have been before. There remain complex legal questions about what kind of collusion is unlawful, and whether a president can obstruct justice by firing the director of the FBI … But it is beyond doubt that a candidate for president can violate campaign finance law.”
Trump’s lawyers and the White House have claimed Michael Cohen is nothing less than a proven liar who is now fibbing to save his own skin. That may be; but that the fact that Trump has been implicated in court in a serious crime is not something that will go away. The prosecutors of the New York Southern District who lead the investigation of Cohen and persuaded him “to flip” on Trump are unlikely to suddenly pack up.
And Trump’s legal problems do not end there. It was also reported prosecutors had offered immunity to both Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and David Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc, the nation’s biggest tabloid news publisher, who has been accused of overseeing a “catch-and-kill” strategy in which women with potentially damaging stories about the president – such as adult actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal – were paid off and legally silenced. It was reported the company kept a locked safe of such damaging stories about Pecker’s friends. Both men must know an awful lot about the way the president operates.
Trump’s legal woes are set within a broader political context. To date, no senior Republicans have broken rank with him or offered more than the most modest of criticisms.
But as the November midterm elections approach, it is already clear a number of Republicans do not want anything to do with the president. The party knows it is most vulnerable to losing control of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of of congress and the place where any impeachment process would begin, as it did against Bill Clinton in 1998.
Currently Democrats need to flip just 23 seats to take control of the house. The election modelling overseen at the University of Virginia by Larry Sabato currently lists 42 of the 435 nationwide contests as a “toss up”, a place where either party could win.
Trump’s name is not on the ballot this November. But every midterm election is a referendum on the incumbent president. While his rating among Republicans remains as high as 85 per cent, reports suggest Republicans have been bleeding support in suburban districts made up of college-educated women and men who may previously have voted Republican in local elections but who have been turned off my some of Trump’s rhetoric and the images of children being separated from their families at the US-Mexico border.
Included on Sabato’s list is Minnesota’s second congressional district, which covers some of the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. This heartland race is between Republican incumbent Jason Lewis and Democratic challenger Angie Craig.
Reports suggest it may be the costliest congressional race in the country, with Republicans spending up to $10m to try and keep the seat. But will anger over Trump there result in moderate Republicans and independents deciding to cast their vote for the highly qualified Craig?
On 6 November we will know the answer, and also the answer to whether Trump has retained his Teflon coating or if the next two years are going to become very ugly for him. His political survival is on the line.
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