We cannot gainsay the possibility that the strategy could work.
To reconfigure a famous line from Senator Marco Rubio, we may have to dispel with the notion that Donald Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to his efforts to change the subject and dampen public outrage about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. He may know exactly what he’s doing.
President Trump on Sunday called on the “fake news media” to turn its attention to questions of illegal government surveillance and ferreting out the leakers within his administration.
“The real story turns out to be SURVEILLANCE and LEAKING!” the president wrote Sunday morning on Twitter. “Find the leakers.”
Last month, Trump accused former president Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, a baseless claim that Trump and his team have continued to trumpet despite providing no corroborating evidence.
Trump aides’ attempts to buttress his wiretapping allegations have been unsuccessful. Meanwhile, a House Intelligence Committee investigation into both Russia’s apparent meddling in the 2016 election and Trump’s surveillance claims has become deeply politicized, with the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), coming under scrutiny for his handling of the investigation.
Most recently, news emerged that least three senior White House officials were involved in the handling of intelligence information that was shared with Nunes and that the congressman argued showed that Trump campaign officials were caught up and, in some cases, unmasked in a broader surveillance of foreign nationals.
Trump and his enablers know that public outrage can be fleeting. They understand that there is a non-negligible likelihood that many Americans will become comfortably numb to Trump’s antics, turn their attention away from politics entirely, and move on to the same bread and circuses they indulged in during the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush years. All they have to do is wait for enough Americans to get bored, and they can go right back to doing their (and Putin’s) dirty work.
It’s easy to mock the voters who are still pledging allegiance to Trump even as he screws them, the voters who think his Twitter tirades are terrific. It’s easy to regard these voters as folks who are, to use the Washington Post ’s famous line about members of the religious right, “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”
What about the rest of us?
Will the anti-Trump resistance grow or diminish as we head towards the summer? Eight years ago, the Tea Party gained momentum as the temperatures rose, sometimes to frightening levels. Will those opposed to Trump demonstrate similar resolve?
As the controversy over Russia’s interference in our election unfolds, pay attention to how many of our fellow Americans are still “woke” — and how many go right back to sleep. Trump and Putin understand that the odds of Americans remaining outraged over a sustained period of time are, frankly, not that high. Two decades ago, anti-Clinton Republicans asked, “Where is the outrage?” Depending on how things play out, anti-Trump Democrats may soon find themselves asking the same question.