Forget Russia. Georgia, as the song has it, should be on Donald Trump’s mind. A special election for the House of Representatives takes place there on June 20. The state’s 6th district congressional seat has been comfortably in Republican hands for decades. A hitherto obscure Democrat by the name of Jon Ossoff is leading by seven points in the polls and has raised a record 24 million dollars. He is thirty-years old and has never held office before. In 2013 he earned a Master of Science degree from the London School of Economics. If he wins, Republicans across the nation will be profusely mopping their brows in anxiety. An Ossoff triumph would be direct evidence of the calamitous electoral effects that the Trump presidency may have for the GOP in the 2018 mid-term elections.
Already a number of Republicans are treading warily around Trump. Writing in the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky observed, ‘President Trump is in deep, deep trouble; even Fox News acknowledged that, playing far more defense than offense yesterday afternoon as James Comey’s testimony ended’. Indeed, it was notable during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday that none of the Republican Senators really sought to take on former FBI director James Comey directly. Instead, the default has been to suggest that perhaps Trump, in seeking to persuade Comey to squash any investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, was naïve about how government works. It’s a novel defense, one that relies on depicting Trump as someone who needs the equivalent of presidential training wheels. According to House speaker Paul Ryan, ‘The president is new at this, he’s new to government, so he’s not steeped in the long-running protocols that’s established between DOJ, FBI, and White Houses. He’s just new to this’.
Trump himself has oscillated between calling Comey a liar and claiming ‘total and complete vindication’ in the space of a single tweet. It’s true that Comey indicated that Trump was not under investigation when he spoke to him three times, but that was then. The question, as Comey implied, is whether special prosecutor Robert Mueller now has Trump in his sights for attempted obstruction of justice. An additional difficulty for Trump comes in the form of his inability to hire a top DC law firm, versed in the mysteries of countering investigations, to represent him.
At least four law firms apparently begged off, citing potential harm to their reputations as well as expressing dubiety that Trump would pay his legal bills. Instead, Trump has turned to his longtime New York lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz. Kasowitz, however, may be compounding Trump’s legal problems by filing a complaint with the Justice Department’s inspector general over Comey’s leak of his unclassified memo. This move is being construed by Trump’s critics as an attempt to silence a witness.
Still, Republicans are unlikely to turn on Trump—for now. His approval rating has dropped to 34 per cent in the new Quinnipiac poll. It would probably have to tumble below 30 per cent before the equivalent of a glacier calving took place in the GOP. Meanwhile, Americans are either passing the popcorn as they watch the Trump reality show or even quaffing an alcoholic beverage—one DC bar is offering a free drink for every tweet that Trump issues about the Comey affair. Trump managed to control himself for about 24 hours, but if today’s tweets are any indications that is about the limit of his self-possession.