If you follow the US president on Twitter, you might think that every day is Donald Day. But Sunday was a particularly good day for Trump After two years of special counsel Robert Mueller investigating possible collusion between Trump, his officials and the Russian government, the verdict was finally delivered: not guilty.
The letter from attorney general William Barr to Congress explains “the special counsel did not find that any US person or Trump campaign official conspired or knowingly co-ordinated with Russia.” On the issue of obstructing justice, the evidence “was not sufficient”, and so the “special counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion.” In short, Donald Trump is a free man.
Of course, this is only the end of the beginning. US political operatives are already working to politicise Mueller’s report, to help their respected party in the 2020 election. But regardless of where we go from here, there are key takeaways from Mueller’s update that have become immediately clear. Both are bad news for Democrats.
The first is that often the simplest answer is the right one. This is certainly true in this instance. After all, it does not take a whipped-up conspiracy theory to explain why Donald Trump is currently in the White House. Trump ran a surprisingly successful campaign in 2016, while his opponent ran a particularly bad one. Unlike Hillary Clinton – who gave the impression she expected to be ‘crowned’ president of the United States – Trump always seemed like the underdog. And he was; while he decisively lost the popular vote, his victory came down to fewer than 80,000 votes spread across three swing states. If Clinton had paid a bit more attention to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, as her grassroots campaigners were begging her to, 2016 could have swung in the Democrats’ direction.
But this straightforward explanation did not sit well with many people, who needed to believe no person in their right mind would vote for Trump. You’d have to be confused, tricked, or forced to vote for the man who did a cameo in Home Alone 2. Mueller’s findings finally settle what many of us – pro-Trumpers and never-Trumpers alike – have knowns for years: people did not vote for Donald Trump because of Russian collusion. They voted for Trump because, very simply, they wanted to vote for Trump. Democrats are going to have to wake up to this reality before the next presidential election if they want a shot at the Oval Office.
The second painful truth for Democrats is that they must admit they were wrong about Trump and Russia. When Trump started making unpleasant noises about the Mueller investigation, people – quite rightly – pushed back on his attacks. Questioning the independent investigation wasn’t a good look for the president, and any attempts to tamper Mueller’s ability to do his job (or his findings) was not going to be tolerated by those on the left or right. In the same way, Trump was going to be required to accept Mueller’s findings, Democrats now must do the same. Continuing the investigation through Congressional hearings – calling the attorney general to testify in front of politicians, as some Democrats are already discussing – is only going to weaken the Democrats’ position. It will also surely test the patience of voters. Stoking scepticism in independent institutions and politicising the justice system also means Trump’s opponents risk borrowing from the Donald’s playbook. I doubt the Democrats could beat Trump at his own game.
Instead, it is time for Democrats to move on. With the Mueller investigation out of the way, it is likely that Republican achievements on the economy will shine through. And as the Democrats find it increasingly difficult to convince the public Trump is literally a crook, they will have to revert to advocating for what they stand for. There lies a big problem for the left. From praising rent controls, to the infamous Green New Deal – which aims to push through a rapid change towards ‘clean’ energy in the States – Democrat hopefuls are coming up with some of the most outlandish and dangerous policy proposals we’ve seen in years. It is hard to imagine a winning ticket that puts sky-high taxes at the heart of its offer to voters, let alone one that threatens more job redundancies in ‘rust belt’ states that Trump picked up in 2016.
The Democrats will need to agree on what they believe in – and fast. They can no longer hope that Mueller will be responsible for Trump’s departure. Only a new democratic mandate can secure that now. And from where Trump’s sitting, his position is looking more secure than ever.