The news that special counsel Robert Mueller found no proof that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia is much worse for Democrats than it appears. Because the vehicle for destroying President Donald Trump has crashed so spectacularly that Trump will reconstruct it into the campaign bus that will deliver him victoriously to the White House on his second Inauguration Day.
Trump’s opponents will try to characterize the report as a detail that can now be discarded as congressional committees and various local prosecutors race to produce damning information. But they’ve already bet on the wrong horse. The Mueller report will simply trample everything else, smashing and discrediting — whether justifiably or not — all other probes hurled Trump’s way.
Democrats will say the report doesn’t exonerate Trump and his campaign of collusion, and they’ll be right — though only in the sense that being found “not guilty” at trial doesn’t definitively prove the accused didn’t commit a crime. They’ll say Mueller was agnostic on whether Trump obstructed justice, and they’ll be right. They’ll say Mueller didn’t address whether Trump or the Trump Organization committed crimes before he became president, and they’ll be right. They’ll say that Mueller is a Republican and that he technically worked for the Justice Department — and therefore for Trump — and they’ll be right.
But this will all amount to space junk in mind of the public, which will focus instead on the simple fact that for two years, Democrats and their allies in the commentariat have proclaimed Trump guilty of collusion with Russia. And the special counsel has concluded he is not. Republicans who are equivocal about Trump and independents — the voters who will decide the election in key tossup states — may not have the stomach for two more years of investigations after Mueller,who is the still the most impartial investigator we have, has weighed in and decided the evidence against Trump is insufficient.
Worse for Democrats, Trump, who tweets from the hip and produces all kinds of unreliable, errant missives, begins to look credible. “Witch hunt,” he regularly exclaims at dawn from the White House residence. Now, that formulation, drilled into voters’ heads, begins to look like a potentially apt description of the opponents Trump has said are trying to thwart his agenda and unfairly delegitimize his election.
Trump, lo and behold, was right. He insisted he didn’t collude with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and there isn’t enough proof to say he did. Meanwhile, economists and former President Barack Obama said manufacturing jobs weren’t coming back, and at least for now, they are. Trump said the economy need not languish perpetually in a state of pitifully low growth, and it’s expanding robustly. He said he’d “crush and destroy ISIS,” and ISIS is appearing pretty crushed and destroyed.
He said he would renegotiate NAFTA, extract the United States from the Paris climate accords, and nix the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Done, done, and done. He moved the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, something other presidents talked about but dared not do. He did it. Suspected by conservatives of not being entirely with the program, he promised to appoint severely conservative justices to the Supreme Court and to other judgeships, and he did exactly that.
Sure, there’s no wall on the southern border, and Obamacare remains mostly intact. But it’s not like he hasn’t tried.
Trump, liar and exaggerator that he is, is beginning to look like that rarest of breed, a politician who keeps promises. That there was no collusion with Russia is the one theme he returned to again and again. Mueller’s failure to prove it sends Trump forth onto the campaign trail with the ability to claim he was right all along and that his word is good, while his eventual Democratic opponent makes the unsubstantiated claims and promises every challenger to an incumbent must make.
Meanwhile, the left-wing voices in Congress will spend the next few months demanding internal administration documents, hurling people before committees and heading to TV studios to proclaim that Trump is guilty of something or other.
They’d better be careful. They reached very far and grabbed hold of mostly air so far. They run the risk of being perceived by reasonable people as engaging in overreach.
I’m betting that despite the risks, however, many Democrats won’t be able to help themselves. The Democratic base smelled blood and still wants it. And these are the people whose small-dollar donations are fueling the Democratic presidential hopefuls, and whose votes in the primaries will choose the nominee. But they are not the people who will put a Democrat over the top in a general election.
The Mueller report has likely ensured it’s going to be a very cold January 2021 for the Democratic Party.
Keith Koffler is a senior editor at the Washington Examiner.
This article was first published on NBC News' Think.