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Why Mueller’s Exoneration Won’t Guarantee Trump’s Re-Election

Whatever bump the president gets from being exonerated by Mueller will probably be erased within a couple of weeks due to Mr. Trump’s own actions.

Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report is complete and the Cliff Notes version that Mueller found no illegal collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians is now public knowledge. As a longtime critic of Trump, I for one am relieved that no one on Team Trump engaged in an illegal conspiracy with the Russians. On the other hand, Trump’s exoneration on allegations of throwing the election is unlikely to change either my mind or the minds of millions of others about Trump’s fitness for office.

On a personal level, I was never convinced of the accusations of Russian collusion. From the earliest days of the controversy, I considered it plausible that someone in the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians, but considered it a long shot that there would be a smoking gun left behind for investigators to find. Anyone engaging in such a serious crime would take steps to cover their tracks.

Additionally, as someone pointed out long ago, President Trump would be an unlikely person for a foreign intelligence service to engage in a clandestine conspiracy with because his mouth and Twitter feed seem to have no filter. If Trump was dealing with the Russians, the fact probably would have slipped out long ago.

Having said all that, Mueller did not find “nothing.” In fact, over the course of the investigation, Mueller’s team found much more than I ever thought they would. Among other things, the investigation uncovered secret meetings between the president’s son and Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, secret negotiations for a Moscow Trump Tower that took place during the election despite claims to the contrary by Trump, a beautiful Russian agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association to influence the group’s policy to benefit Putin, and the fact that Roger Stone was acting as a conduit for information between WikiLeaks, a known Russian front, and the Trump campaign. Of course, none of this implicates the Trump campaign in criminal wrongdoing except for the lies that its members told to the FBI to cover up their actions. As with many other scandals, the coverup was worse than the underlying crime.

And there was a coverup that went all the way to the top. If President Trump has been consistent on anything other than the wall over the past two years it has been that he did not want Robert Mueller to complete his investigation. Mr. Trump stopped short of obstruction of justice but did try to undermine investigators at every turn, including subjecting the man who just exonerated him to two years of character assassination. Again, this is not a crime but does speak to the president’s character.

And that brings up back around to why Mueller’s findings will not put Trump over the top in his 2020 re-election campaign. The short version of this is that whatever bump the president gets from being exonerated by Mueller will probably be erased within a couple of weeks due to Mr. Trump’s own actions. In the past, the president’s need for attention has led to outlandish comments and tweets that quickly push any good news for the Administration off the front page.  

When I recently made my case against supporting Donald Trump for re-election, I didn’t mention Russia or collusion. Instead, my two main concerns were the same as they were in 2016, namely that Donald Trump’s character makes him unfit for office and that his policy agenda, which on some issues is to the left of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, is not a good one for the United States.

The bright spot for President Trump is the economy. Voters have consistently rated the president well for his handling of the economy but poorly for pretty much everything else. Polling shows the president underwater on foreign affairs, trade, immigration, the federal budget, race relations, and corruption, among other things. Trump is even viewed unfavorably on taxes despite the tax reform law passed two years ago. Polling of individual states indicates that Mr. Trump’s widespread unpopularity makes it unlikely that he will repeat the Electoral College fluke that sent him to the White House in 2016.

Further, the favorable findings of the Mueller report don’t mean the end to President Trump’s legal troubles. Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York are still investigating alleged financial crimes on a number of fronts. While it’s unlikely that these investigations would lead to impeachment, they could negatively affect Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign. There is also the possibility that, even though Mueller exonerated the president on allegations of an illegal conspiracy with Russia, the full report, if it is ever released, could contain information that is damaging or embarrassing to Mr. Trump.

In short, Mueller’s report is good news for President Trump, but it is not a silver bullet. To win re-election, the president cannot rely on claiming vindication over Democratic accusations. He must actively get out and win over the moderate and independent voters that he has alienated over the past two years. That will require making a strong pitch that reaches beyond base supporters at his rallies.

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