Donald Trump is at a crossroads, with a difficult choice in front of him. Yes, that sounds kind of ridiculous, given that the man has skirted accountability for his entire life. Why should this time be any different?
The challenge for him is that, this time, the stage is bigger, the forces of justice stronger and more determined, his enemies powerful, and the exposure of his probable crimes far greater than when he was scamming real estate investors and threatening Manhattan tabloids.
With Democrats in control of the House and investigations closing in from all sides, Trump’s political survival and, quite possibly, his personal freedom depends on the loyalty of Senate Republicans. For their part, Senate Republicans have no further chance of passing legislation until at least 2020, and Mike Pence is just as capable of nominating judges as Trump is. Their only loyalty to Trump, therefore, is predicated on their fear of Trump’s control of the GOP base.
But the mob is a fickle thing, especially it remains almost entirely controlled by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets. If Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and so on collectively decide that Trump is too damaged by whatever comes of the Mueller report and other criminal inquiries to survive, they can easily turn Trump’s base against him.
Trump knows this at some level. He can also see that at least some Republicans in the Senate are growing increasingly rebellious, having rejected both his border emergency gambit and his support for the Saudi war in Yemen. After the Mueller report comes out, it is difficult to imagine even McConnell’s squad of cynical GOP senators staying fully united behind Trump.
So, as defections begin to mount, will Trump choose to try to intimidate his Senate allies with fear of reprisals? Or will he be conciliatory and try to cooperate with them on their priorities in exchange for their loyalty?
So far, the answer appears to be the former. That’s in keeping with the hard-nosed negotiating strategy Trump has used his entire life. He tried and failed to cajole senators for the emergency declaration, and Saturday’s odious tweet attacking the late Senator John McCain over the Steele dossier can only be read as a threat against current senators who cross him over the report.
Trump may survive all this. He may even win re-election. But even so, chances are slim that his usual tactics of intimidation will carry the day. He needs allies in the Senate, and attempting to browbeat them into submission may prove his final undoing.
But that’s his choice to make.