Trump turns to Rus­sia probe to poke crit­ics

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is try­ing to turn the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a ral­ly­ing cry. Far from avoid­ing talk of the ac­cel­er­at­ing probe into his cam­paign’s ties to Moscow, Trump is in­stead us­ing it to stoke the out­rage of his most loyal sup­port­ers. The probe, he ar­gues, is an out­growth of the bias and re­sent­ment me­dia elites and Democrats hold against his white, work­ing-class base. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is a ne­far­i­ous at­tempt to undo the re­sults of the elec­tion and seize power from the vot­ers who have been marginal­ized, he says.

“They can’t beat us at the vot­ing booths so they are try­ing to cheat you out of the fu­ture and the fu­ture that you want,” Trump said in a de­fi­ant tone dur­ing a Thurs­day night rally in Hunt­ing­ton, West Vir­ginia. “They are try­ing to cheat you out of the lead­er­ship you want with a fake story that is de­mean­ing to all of us and most im­por­tantly, de­mean­ing to our coun­try and de­mean­ing to our Con­sti­tu­tion.”

The mes­sage falls in line with Trump’s long­stand­ing ap­peal to the vot­ers he has called the “for­got­ten men and women of our coun­try” who lack a voice in gov­ern­ment. Trump casts him­self as the voice of the ag­grieved who un­der­stands their trou­bles. But this heavy re­liance on his loyal base, which com­prise far short of an elec­toral ma­jor­ity, car­ries risks. Long-term, it’s un­clear how his mes­sage will ap­peal to main­stream Re­pub­li­cans, some of whom are con­duct­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his Rus­sia ties in Congress and are un­likely to see spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, the by-the­book for­mer FBI direc­tor and dec­o­rated Viet­nam War vet­eran, as the face of a witch hunt.

The mes­sage also ob­scures the is­sue his base cares most deeply about: The econ­omy. For now, Trump ap­pears to be on solid ground on that front. He has presided over a strong econ­omy dur­ing his first six months in of­fice he re­peat­edly noted this week that the stock mar­ket had risen to new heights. He pointed Fri­day to the lat­est job re­port, which showed more than 200,000 new jobs in July and an un­em­ploy­ment rate of 4.3 per­cent, match­ing a 16year low. But a slip in the na­tion’s eco­nomic for­tunes be­fore the 2020 elec­tion, es­pe­cially in states key to Trump’s vic­tory like Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia, could make it harder for Trump to hold onto his base. In some re­spects, Trump is tak­ing a page from his fa­vorite scape­goats: Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton. Dur­ing the late 1990s, Bill Clin­ton as­sailed House Re­pub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dent coun­sel Ken Starr as fierce par­ti­sans for push­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his af­fair with a White House in­tern and his role in an Arkansas land deal. Hil­lary Clin­ton fa­mously called it a “vast right-wing con­spir­acy”. Two decades later, when Re­pub­li­cans pur­sued a lengthy in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her han­dling of the 2012 at­tacks in Beng­hazi, Libya, she said it was a par­ti­san at­tempt to hurt her 2016 cam­paign. This time, Trump has taken the par­ti­san ar­gu­ment to a new de­gree, par­lay­ing it with his long­stand­ing in­dict­ment of the Wash­ing­ton “swamp” of in­sid­ers whom he says hurt many Amer­i­cans. “He’s not just do­ing the par­ti­san play­book, but he’s mak­ing it about the sys­tem in some ways go­ing af­ter him and go­ing af­ter what the vot­ers wanted,” said pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Ju­lian Zelizer, a pro­fes­sor at Prince­ton Univer­sity.

Zelizer said the re­liance on base pol­i­tics car­ries risks for Trump, who has al­ready sus­tained cracks in his sup­port, em­bod­ied by strained re­la­tions with Repub­li­can lead­er­ship, Ari­zona Repub­li­can Sen Jeff Flake’s book crit­i­ciz­ing Trump’s lead­er­ship, and three GOP se­na­tors’ un­will­ing­ness to go along on re­peal­ing “Oba­macare”. “That could be a dan­ger­ous path. Just the base can’t pro­tect him,” Zelizer said.

Most Amer­i­cans don’t seem to share Trump’s views on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Nearly 60 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say they don’t think Trump is tak­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion se­ri­ously enough and roughly the same per­cent­age think he’s tried to de­rail the probe, ac­cord­ing to a Quin­nip­iac poll pub­lished this week. Still, be­fore a rau­cous crowd in West Vir­ginia, the pres­i­dent called the Rus­sia story “a to­tal fab­ri­ca­tion” and an ex­cuse pro­mul­gated by Democrats for their 2016 de­feat.

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