So, Donald Trump Jr. met with a lawyer he thought was bringing dirt on Hillary Clinton via the Russian government. Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, attended that meeting but didn’t disclose it (or several other meetings with Russians) on forms he was required to fill out to receive his top-level security clearance. The Trump team has issued statements about that meeting that have changed as more information has come out about it; only on Friday did the public learn that a lobbyist with reported Russian intelligence ties had attended as well.
Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, was fired after the Washington Post revealed that he had lied to other administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his communications with the Russian ambassador. Flynn and Kushner attempted to establish a backchannel with Russia that raised eyebrows. Trump himself has questioned the idea that Russia hacked his Democratic opponents despite the conclusions of US intelligence agencies; as of last weekend’s G-20 summit, he was still hemming and hawing, saying, “I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and or countries. I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”
Finally, Trump fired FBI director James Comey in the middle of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the election and any inappropriate communications between Russia and the Trump campaign.
None of this is proof actual crimes were committed by anyone. But at the bare minimum it’s a public relations disaster for a White House that wanders from one scandal to another like a drunkard stumbling from room to room in a burning mansion. Yet while some Republicans like Arizona senator John McCain criticized the Trumps’ conduct, none have gone so far as to actually oppose anything their president is doing.
It’s been frustrating for liberals to watch as supposedly principled conservatives like Nebraska’s Ben Sasse sit idly instead of rising in outrage to demand real consequences for the Trump administration’s shadiness. Why aren’t they calling on Kushner to resign, or demanding Trump release tax returns that might shed light on any financial connections to Russia? Why are they fine with all this?
One reason is that Republicans need Trump, who is largely indifferent to important areas of policy, to sign legislation they want passed like an Affordable Care Act repeal and tax reform. But a simpler reason is that Republican voters still love Trump.
Though much has been written about how unpopular Trump is, those polls just reflect public opinion as a whole. As of June 13, nearly 80 percent of Republicans approved of Trump according to a daily Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll. A couple months ago, in the midst of controversy of Comey’s firing, it was reported that his numbers among Republicans were falling, and they were—but they didn’t go below 75 percent approval. Local GOP leaders from around the country recently told Politico that the base really wasn’t worried about Russia; in Alabama, a Senate primary competition has become a battle over which candidate loves Trump the most.
It seems likely that more damaging stories about ties between Russia and Trump will emerge. The House and Senate intelligence committees will continue to investigate this mess, as will special counsel Robert Mueller (unless Trump fires him). Outrage from liberals and a few anti-Trump conservatives will remain omnipresent.
But Republican politicians thinking about reelection won’t look at any of that. If their voters don’t demand a response from them, that response won’t be forthcoming. And a drastic step like impeachment won’t happen unless Republicans support it.
More broadly, scandals take a long, long time to unfold. Facts need to become public, and Americans need to understand what actually happened and why. It took two years from the date of the Watergate break-in for Richard Nixon to resign; Ken Starr’s investigation of the Clintons in the 90s stretched on for more than four years. It’s going to take a lot longer than six months for Republicans to turn on Trump, if they ever do. So strap in.
Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.