We have been appropriately distracted from the Trump Administration for the past two weeks. From Harvey to Irma to fires in the West, we have watched with empathy and dread as the winds blow, the waters rise, and our fellow citizens step up to help each other. And while the triple tragedies of storms and floods and fire are heart rending, the true “heart” of America is visible as well. Regardless of race, political views, gender: Americans are working to save their communities, and to join together to begin to recover. As Lincoln would say: “it is all together fitting and proper that we should do this.”
But these events did not completely cloud the failures of Trump through these weeks. While he (so far) has managed the crises pretty well, including making a deal with Democrats to get reconstruction money for Harvey damages; he also thrust over 800,000 young people towards deportation with the soon to come end of DACA, and he has moved the United States one step closer to a major war in Korea.
And last night the veil was lifted on Trump’s strategy to continue to govern. In his first interview since leaving the White House, Steve Bannon declared war: not on his hated “liberal elites” (though they got plenty of mention), but on the establishment of the Republican Party. Bannon attacked McConnell, Ryan, and the entire Bush Presidency. He claimed that he intentionally left the White House to free himself from the constraints of being a “Federal employee.” His plan: to continue the “insurgency” of the Trump candidacy from the outside, and take the Republican party from the “forces of establishment.” Bannon advocated for his “America for Americans” view, whether it’s economically against China, or against the DACA Dreamers.
So the Trump strategy: to fight from the outside, with Bannon at Breitbart and Lewandowski at the Trump PAC, with Trump TV and the support of Sinclair Communications and the Mercers, as well as with the official Trump 2020 Presidential campaign. What he can’t win in Washington he will try to win “in the heartland.” He will use his core support to pressure the Republicans in Washington. That pressure will be used to try to keep his Presidency alive as the Russia investigation gets closer to the top. If Republicans are afraid to run for office against a Trump insurgent, then they will be forced to find ways to protect him.
This is already at work in the House of Representatives, where Devin Nunes has returned to meddle in the Intelligence Committee investigation. Nunes, the chairman who was scorned and forced to recuse himself last spring for trying to sidetrack the process, has taken action as chairman again. Over the objections of Democrats and despite his “recusal,” Nunes has subpoenaed the Department of Justice and the FBI for all documents relating to the Steele Dossier.
The Steele Dossier is the “opposition research” document, originally contracted for by Republicans running against Trump, that revealed deep connections between Trump and Russian Intelligence. While parts of this report have yet to be confirmed, many of the allegations are proving valid. The Republican hope is that the Department and the FBI in some way relied on the Dossier as part of their investigation of the President. If they did, and the committee can somehow discredit the dossier, then the claim will be that the entire investigation into the Trump campaign should be discredited (http://dahlman.online/index.php/2017/08/06/fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree/). Can a recused chairman do this? The only check on his actions is the Speaker of the House, and Speaker Ryan shows no sign of intervening.
And while Special Counsel Mueller quietly continues his investigations, the more visible aspects of his work seem to be concentrated on obstructing justice charges, rather than the underlying causes. While lying to prosecutors and interfering in investigations are all illegal and actionable; in the biggest action of all, Presidential impeachment, it is likely to take more than just obstruction to convince the Republican majorities in the House and Senate to proceed.
It’s September. Congress is back in session, and, absent more storms and fires, may begin to actually work. Part of that agenda is the continuing investigation of the Trump campaign. But, don’t be surprised when the “insurgency” strikes back with more attempts at distraction and intimidation. “God willing and the river don’t rise,” they won’t succeed.