Peace, prosperity and character are usually the main ingredients that affect whether a U.S. president will be re-elected. So far, prosperity has proceeded nicely for President Donald Trump. That said, GDP growth falling to 2.6 percent, worrisome data and some bad omens could mean fresh doubt about the durability of the Trump economy. And as for peace, the American people have always been impatient and had a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude. With Syria and Afghanistan receding from view, the measure of “peace” could become all about the status of North Korea. After the failed summit in Vietnam, if Kim Jung Un gets back on the warpath with weapons tests and bellicose threats, North Korea could become the focal point of Trump’s foreign policy and weigh on the president’s re-election prospects.
Meanwhile, the character issue took a blow Wednesday with Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. It was mostly filled with the same old charges that Cohen and others have made against the president, but some new elements were sprinkled in. Republicans looked rattled and foolish. Rather than try to be the adults in the room, they did the opposite. The low point had to be a large poster displayed alongside the committee members that read: “liar liar pants on fire!” I guess that was meant to gratuitously taunt Cohen. Really? The man is about to go to prison and this poster was meant to intimidate him? Would any parent have permitted their child to do such a thing at a middle school student government meeting? Of course not. Cohen is the one who seemed measured and in command. Sigh.
Perhaps the most surreal moment of the day was when Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., invited an obscure black Trump political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to appear at the hearing and stand on the dais as proof that Trump was not racist. I would have loved to have been in the GOP planning session and heard arguments as to why that would be an appropriate and convincing display to refute the charge that Trump is racist. I can only imagine the subsequent call someone made to the poor woman, telling her what was required of her in defense of the president.
As for the Democrats, with Cohen they are now relying on a proven liar to make their point, whatever that point may be. Anything they said about Cohen in the past is immaterial now that he has turned on the president. No one seems to notice, but Cohen really did not have anything to say that suggested the president or the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. The collusion caravan seems to be moving on and is arriving at a destination where Trump is guilty of something, but nobody quite knows what.
To be sure, there is no shortage of nefarious activity surrounding Trump. Democrats and their allies in the media have grasped the idea that crimes were committed, without offering any definitive specifics. On Thursday, The Washington Post quoted a professor of criminal law who said: “No single thing Cohen said about Trump related to Russia is a smoking gun. But, pulled together, they could become a thread used to charge someone with being a co-conspirator.” A co-conspirator in furtherance of what specific crime is being left unsaid.
All of this is bad for Trump, right? I ask the question only because ever since Trump entered the presidential race, one stunning outrage has followed the next and nothing has sunk the Trump presidency. Trump’s modus operandi of deny, deceive and attack seems to have its own momentum and sails like a flat stone skipping across a pond. The question is: When will the stone inevitably slow down and sink? It hasn’t so far, and I have quit trying to predict what might make the Trump presidency collapse.
That said, there is no case to make that any of the events this week were good for the president’s re-election, for Republicans in office or for the Republican Party generally. For the first time since Trump was elected, we may be experiencing the trifecta of less prosperity, the renewed prospect of war and questions of character that continue to alienate many suburban moderates and traditional Republican voters.