Donald Trump’s aggressive and at times child-like demeanour served him well during the election, yet the President’s inability to control the media narrative has created an impression of him being either incredibly stupid or incredibly corrupt, says Evgeny Pudovkin.
At the time of his dismissal, James Comey had spent almost three years and seven months as an FBI director, his being one of the shortest tenures in the bureau’s history. On the bright side, that is still longer than Michael Flynn, the President’s erstwhile national security advisor, managed to hold on to his seat. Both episodes became grist to the mill for the political firestorm surrounding allegations of Trump’s collusion with Russia. Allegations of President’s Donald Trump sharing classified intelligence with the Russians underscores the extent to which he is mired in the ongoing imbroglio.
According to Politico, the inability to control the narrative around these allegations made Trump enraged. He should be. Scandals concerning the President’s alleged links with Russia hinder his foreign policy agenda and are quickly eating through his political capital back home.
According to a Quinnipiac poll, 54 per cent of Americans strongly oppose the President’s approach towards Russia, while 66 per cent of respondents are in favour of appointing a special committee to investigate Trump’s alleged connections with the Kremlin. And while the Republicans would rather talk more about Paul Ryan’s tax plan, they now have to deal with the tumult caused by the President and an ongoing briefing war between departments.
When previous episodes of the ‘Russiagate’ saga took place, you could find more than one culprit. Take the ‘golden shower’ dossier, containing graphic evidence of sexual acts obtained by the Russians. The story, which was swiftly picked up by several liberal publications, was ludicrous from the outset. The document’s validity came into doubt and the story caused little impact beyond beyond the SNL TV-show.
In terms of the Flynn story, where he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, one could point to the security adviser’s own negligence. The appointment of H.R. McMaster – a solid ‘hawk’ with a plan to keep Russia at bay – helped to further sooth nerves of those from the John McCain wing of his party.
This time, however, Trump’s fresh wound looks entirely self-inflicted. The more one broods over the case, the more bizarre it becomes.
First, there is the question of timing. What took Trump so long to fire Comey if, as his deputy press secretary pointed out, the President had decided to give him the sack on his Election Day? According to Trump’s account, there was simply “no right time” to pull the trigger. “Let’s say I did it on January 20, the opening, right, and that would have been the big story as opposed to the inauguration,” he said in his interview with NBC. Yet, surely, there was a more convenient time between 20 January and the escalation of FBI’s Russia inquiry?
Trump’s reluctance to appoint a special prosecutor or a select committee to investigate the Russia episode is also puzzling. Surely, this may complicate matters: allotting more media coverage to the investigation’s proceedings as well as making them more protracted. But it doesn’t look like the situation is going to fizzle out soon anyway.
Then came the President’s boorish interventions, delivered with the trademark eloquence. When asked by NBC about his reasoning behind sacking Comey, Trump dubbed the former FBI director a ‘showboat’ and a ‘grandstander’. He then decided to bring up Russia: “In fact you know, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”
In the same interview, he also admitted asking the then FBI Director to tell him if he is being under an investigation. To top it off, Trump went on Twitter to discourage Comey from leaking to the press, hinting he may release the ‘tapes’ of their conversations.
The possibility of the acting American President colluding with a foreign power seems like a fantastic prospect to entertain. It still looks unlikely he did. Yet, Trump’s ostentatious disregard for procedures, the bad timing of his decisions and his stubborn refusal to engage in damage-limitation instead opting to bluntly deny an event has occurred all add to what has already marked the beginning of his troubled presidency.
Ultimately, it all hinges on the Republicans in Congress. It only takes three GOP senators to side with 48 Democrats in a 100-seat chamber to force Trump to open a special investigation into Russia, while initiating an impeachment requires the House majority. So far, the Senate majority’s leader, Mitch McConnell, has sided with the President on the Russia issue and it looks unlikely the party will choose to abandon him. Perhaps rightly so, given it still looks safer to have Trump under their control than providing an opening for the Democrats, who are still a mess.
Democrats’ success in the next mid-term elections remains in doubt. However fun the business of castigating Trump is, it does not guarantee success at the polls, and the American left still lacks a coherent message. And while the President’s absolute ratings may be plummeting, he is still more popular than a Democrat candidate.
All this should embolden Trump to take bolder action, delivering on his promises to liberalise domestic economy and achieve stability abroad. However, the White House looks set to continue spending large chunks of its time embroiled in unnecessary scandals, desperately trying to navigate a route out of them.
To paraphrase Vice Cable, a former Liberal Democrat MP, despite the media’s portrayal of the President as a new Stalin, his present act makes him bear more resemblance to Mr. Bean.