Brace yourselves, emboldened Trump is on course for a second term
After being ‘exonerated’ by Mueller report, he is on course for a further six years in office, and dead set on revenge
Love him or hate him, US President Donald Trump is a formidable and merciless adversary. He shouts, he tweets (in capital letters), he attacks, he bullies. Above all, he is relentless. The man does not stop. Once you are identified as an enemy (there are no opponents in Trumpworld, just enemies) then you feel his wrath almost every week and everywhere.
Ask Adam Schiff, the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee chairperson and California Democrat. Schiff has doggedly pursued Trump for answers to various scandals and allegations that have swirled around him, and has been roundly insulted and attacked by Trump.
At a rally last week Trump assailed Schiff, who he has in the past attacked on Twitter (he deliberately spelt his name with a double “T” at the end instead of “F”) and at press conferences, saying: “Little pencil-necked Adam Schiff. He's got the smallest, thinnest neck I’ve ever seen. He is not a long-ball hitter.”
The media, which Trump refers to as “the Fake News media”, is attacked every few days except for his favourite channel, the right-wing Fox News. The attacks are single-minded, brutal and relentless. Trump’s attacks make Julius Malema and his supporters’ railings against the media in SA sound like kindergarten games.
So you can imagine what Trump must have thought last weekend when he received possibly the greatest gift of his two-year presidency: attorney-general William Barr released a four-page statement saying that the special counsel investigation by Robert S Mueller III had found no criminal collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government to influence the outcome of the presidential elections that saw Trump ascend to power. There was Russian interference in the election, he found, but no criminal scheme between Moscow and Team Trump.
With that major result in his hands, Trump is now on the warpath. Last week he gave clear signals that he wants those who accused him of collusion to face some kind of reckoning, including being investigated themselves.
“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, some bad things, I would say some treasonous things against our country,” he said.
“And hopefully people that have done such harm to our country – we’ve gone through a period of really bad things happening – those people will certainly be looked at.”
This is significant for more than just the thoughts of vengeance. In those words you can begin to see the shape of the Trump campaign to win the 2020 elections and gain a second term. The redacted Mueller report is likely to be released in the next month and there may be some damaging information about Trump and his associates in it. Questions continue to be asked about how Barr and his office decided to exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice charges when the investigator, Mueller, explicitly said in his report that he did not and cannot exonerate Trump. Many other issues will come up. Democrats in the House of Representatives have multiple investigations into Trump beyond the 2016 election, including probing his finances, business practices and potential abuses of power.
But the headline remains a powerful one: that Barr said Mueller cleared Trump on Russian collusion. And Trump, when he emerged from his golfing last weekend, was of the same view, saying again and again that he had been “exonerated”. Pointing at the Democrats, he taunted: “They are on artificial respirators right now. They are getting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”
Trump is now emboldened. He has a grievance and a narrative that there is a “witch-hunt” aimed at getting rid of him – and he has been exonerated. And he will use it again and again over the next two years.
Within the Republican Party he has no challenger. The Democrats, on the other hand, have myriad potential candidates to take him on. Right now it looks doubtful that any of them can challenge an incumbent who has a strong economy and a pugnacious, bullying personality and a victim narrative.
To my mind Trump, unless he is tripped up by a major legal issue, seems on track for a second term. Given what he has already done to remake the world (pushing back on climate change, undermining global democratic norms and institutions such as Nato, aligning himself with dictators such as Kim Jong-un among others) in just two years, imagine what he will do with another six.
Fasten your seatbelts for Trump 2.0. It’s going to be even rockier than the past two years.