The Outcome Is the Same Whether Trump Fires Mueller Or Not

Much of the country is now asking the same questions in nervous apprehension: will Trump fire Mueller or won’t he? If he does, what do we do?

Special Counsel Mueller’s probe is tightening its noose around Trump’s immediate family and advisers, flipping core lieutenants, and digging both into potential crimes of state and financial misdeeds in the Trump Organization.

Republicans and their media allies are getting very nervous, and have moved from simply trying to discredit the Mueller probe to blatantly demanding that Trump instigate a modern Saturday Night Massacre by firing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and replacing him with a loyalist who will fire Mueller. President Trump is setting the table for a authoritarian crackdown before Mueller can present his charges to Congress.

Trump will almost certainly do it, if for no other reason than that the calculus doesn’t change much for either side whether he does it or not. Accountability for Trump’s alleged misdeeds still comes down to the 2018 elections in either scenario. So why would Trump let Mueller continue to operate?

Even if Trump doesn’t fire Mueller, the likelihood that the Republican Congress will impeach him is next to nil. Republicans have already shown that they are far more afraid of Trump’s rabid fans in the GOP base than they are of anti-Trump backlash. They’re gearing up to pass a corrupt, massively unpopular tax cut just to please their donors, and they’ve shown themselves willing to support their president no matter how degraded his conduct. They’ll dismiss the financial crimes as an irrelevant personal attack, ignore the Russia collusion as sour grapes, and counter the obstruction of justice charges by muddying the waters over supposed partisan corruption in the FBI.

The damage to Trump’s reputation from the publication of Mueller’s charges will be significant, and a few Republican members of Congress will tut tut to the press. But impeachment is off the table at least until Democrats can regain control of Congress.

If Trump does fire Mueller, then the country faces an authoritarian constitutional crisis–about which Republicans in Congress will also do nothing. A few of them will say stern things to reporters, but they still won’t move to impeach. The findings of Mueller’s aborted investigation will leak to the press regardless. Republicans will in turn try to survive the fallout and bank all the radical legislation they can before the 2018 election.

As for the public, if Trump does fire Mueller there will be massive public protest, as there must be. Liberals and decent people may hope that sustained protest will crack Republican resolve and drive Trump from office, much as South Korean protests forced the resignation of President Park Geun-hye last year.

But this is vain hope. Donald Trump is not the sort of man to abdicate a position of power because people hate him. He relishes and thrives on the hate. If the entire country grinds to a standstill over his personal presence alone, that will only feed his bottomless narcissism. Congressional Republicans won’t crack under the pressure, either, and even if they did Trump would dismiss their pleas for his resignation.

Whether Trump does fire Mueller or not, the Republican Party will fall back on the same position they took regarding the sexual misconduct allegations against both Trump and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore: that it will be up to the American people to decide their stance on the matter at the ballot box.

It seems rather unlikely that Trump will attempt to cancel the 2018 elections and literally install himself as a national dictator. He doesn’t have the popularity or the institutional support, and he is feared by neither the political opposition nor the public. It’s doubtful that Trump would dare to test the military’s loyalty in refusing the inevitable court orders that would ensue from a hostile takeover of democracy itself. And we know that Trump is planning to be a big presence on the 2018 campaign trail.

All of which means that Trump isn’t leaving office whether he fires Mueller or not. He can’t be shamed into resignation, he can’t be driven out by protest, and the Republican Congress won’t impeach him either way.

The only solution to this mess is at the ballot box. If Democrats can retake the House in 2018, then new probes can be set up and impeachment proceedings can begin. Even then, Trump probably won’t be forced out. Even if the House impeaches, finding 66 Senators to convict will be a challenge. Republican Senators facing a deeply unpopular president and reeling from a catastrophic midterm election might be persuaded to convict Trump if Pence could be left in his place, but they obviously won’t cooperate in installing a Democratic Speaker of the House in the Oval Office. But at the very least Trump’s legislative agenda will be stymied, and he will be a lame duck president entering the 2020 election.

Nervous Democrats should spend a little less time worrying about what Trump will do to Mueller, and more time figuring out how to make the maximum impact at the voting booth in November.


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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.