Trump Confronts the Prospect of a ‘Nonstop Political War’ for Survival

So it has come to this: The president of the United States was asked over the weekend whether he is a Russian agent. And he refused to directly answer.

The question, which came from a friendly interviewer, not one of the “fake media” journalists he disparages, was “the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he declared. But it is a question that has hung over his presidency now for two years.

If the now 23-day government shutdown standoff between Mr. Trump and Congress has seemed ugly, it may eventually seem tame in light of what is to come. The border wall fight is just the preliminary skirmish in this new era of divided government. The real battle has yet to begin.

With Democrats now in charge of the House, the special counsel believed to be wrapping up his investigation, news media outlets competing for scoops and the first articles of impeachment already filed, Mr. Trump faces the prospect of an all-out political war for survival that may make the still-unresolved partial government shutdown pale by comparison.

The last few days have offered plenty of foreshadowing. The newly empowered Democrats summoned the president’s longtime personal lawyer to testify after he implicated Mr. Trump in an illegal scheme to arrange hush payments before the 2016 election for women who claimed to have had affairs with him. Legal papers disclosed that Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman shared polling data with an associate tied by prosecutors to Russian intelligence.

New reports over the weekend added to the sense of siege at the White House. The New York Times reported that after Mr. Trump fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, in 2017, the bureau opened an investigation into whether the president was working for the Russians. And The Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump has gone out of his way as president to hide the details of his discussions with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia even from members of his own administration.

What all this adds up to remains unclear. Whether it will lead to a full-blown impeachment inquiry in the House has yet to be decided. But it underscores the chance that with candidates already lining up to take him on in 2020, Washington will spend the months to come debating the future of Mr. Trump’s presidency and the direction of the country.

“The reality,” said Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former special assistant to Mr. Trump, is “that the next two years are going to be nonstop political war.”

The White House has begun recruiting soldiers. The new White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, has hired 17 new lawyers, according to The Post, as he prepares for a barrage of subpoenas from House Democratic committee chairmen.

But Mr. Trump’s inner circle has shrunk, and he has fewer advisers around him whom he trusts. His White House chief of staff is still serving in an acting capacity, and the West Wing is depleted by the shutdown. As he himself wrote on Twitter this weekend, “There’s almost nobody in the W.H. but me.”

Mr. Surabian said the rest of the party must recognize the threat and rally behind the president. “Republicans need to understand that Democrats in Congress, beholden to the ‘resistance,’ aren’t interested in bipartisanship, they’re out for blood,” he said. “It’s a war we can win,” he added, “but only with fortitude, unity, coherent messaging and a willingness to fight back.”

 

 

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