Assume for a moment that Donald Trump survives the Russia investigation.
Assume first that he doesn’t fire Robert Mueller. Assume then, as seems increasingly likely, that Mueller discovers a web of financial entanglements between Trump and Russia, that he can show how Russia thought they had leverage over Trump and used every weapon in their cyber arsenal to get him elected.
But also assume that Mueller was unable to find any smoking gun evidence that Trump, his family or his campaign coordinated with the Kremlin beyond the Donald Jr. meeting we now know took place.
Will this benefit or harm the President politically as he moves toward reelection in 2020?
Odds are that Trump will use it to his advantage.
Consider the playbook he’s already laid out.
To his supporters, he came to Washington to drain the swamp and stick it to the establishment. The Russia investigation is his perfect foil, an opportunity to show how the swamp tried to drag him down but how he then fought back and triumphantly defied their attempts to undo his presidency.
He will then make it a parable for how the establishment doesn’t want to relinquish its power but he’s the only one strong enough and gutsy enough to stand up to them and take them on.
He’ll portray the Mueller team as a bunch of Democrats who tried to accomplish via their investigation what they couldn’t do with the election – and failed.
He’ll portray the mainstream media as a flailing establishment tool that hyped the Russia story for partisan reasons but in the end had no evidence and misled the American people.
He’ll bully whichever Republican senators and members of Congress who asked tough questions on the various investigating committees for betraying him and his followers – and succumbing to pressure from the media, Democrats, and the establishment.
He’ll then align his persecution by the establishment with what he will describe as the continuing disrespect that elites show the “forgotten Americans” and white working class.
Consider too that this is the narrative that FOX , Breitbart, Sinclair, and likeminded outlets are already spinning out daily to their audience.
Whether strategic or simply haphazard, Trump has shown a singular ability to keep his opponents and the media off balance. They’re constantly guessing what he’ll do next, waiting with baited breath for the next storyline or surprise he tweets out. To his supporters, his media mastery will serve as yet another example of his prowess in dominating and pushing back against a resistant establishment.
And given that he will interpret the Russia investigation as a big win and vindication, they will take great joy in seeing him sticking it to the man almost daily.
With most Americans feeling powerless to influence Washington, only 11 percent expressing a great deal of confidence in the news, and nearly nine in ten Republicans saying the press has a negative impact on our country, it’s not hard to imagine Trump stitching back together an electorate not too dissimilar to the populist movement that defied the polls and got him elected him in 2016.
Whether that will be enough to defeat an opponent who isn’t an establishment creature like Hillary Clinton is of course the question political junkies will debate all the way up to Election Day 2020.
But that of course assumes he will survive the Russia investigation. Stay tuned.
Originally published on Political Wire.
A former speechwriter and strategist for causes, candidates, and members of Congress, Leonard Steinhorn has written two books on American politics and culture and frequently writes for major print and online publications. He is currently a professor of communication at American University and a CBS News political analyst.
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