Early Returns

The Real Costs of Being Donald Trump

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

I had already seen Twitter chatter Monday before the Washington Post blockbuster on intelligence that Donald Trump had "gotten away with" firing James Comey. After all, the episode was going to fade from the headlines soon enough, no matter how important people believe it is, and Trump is still there and Comey isn't.

I'm all for being cynical, but I'd strongly urge against that interpretation. Presidents have limited ability to act unilaterally. Everything they want to do is easier to get done when their reputations are strong and when they are popular. We can measure the latter, and Trump has lost about 2 percentage points in his approval ratings over the last 10 days or so. It's impossible to separate out any Comey effect (there are just too many other events, and polls aren't always taken at the most convenient intervals), but the larger point is that each increment of popularity he loses makes it less and less likely other politicians and others whom Trump deals with will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Reputation is a lot harder to quantify, but remember what Richard Neustadt said about presidents acting by command rather than by bargaining: "It can be costly to the aims in whose defense it is employed. It can be costly, also, to objectives far afield." It may be difficult to prove the specific connection, but I strongly suspect that a lot of congressional Republicans are that much less eager to defend Trump this time after they had to defend him last week. Those in the executive branch who were taken aback by the Comey firing will be a little more eager this week to leak against the White House. Moreover, even within the White House, those who had doubts about the Comey firing, or even those who supported it but didn't enjoy dealing with the fallout, may be that much less eager to defend their boss this time and more willing to dump on him anonymously. 

In other words: Don't mistake remaining in office for avoiding any consequences. And there still may be more to learn about the Comey episode. 

1. Julia Azari at Vox: "The main checks on presidential power are found in politics, not in law." Exactly. 

2. Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage interviews Kenneth Prewitt about the census.

3. Also at the Monkey Cage: Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald and Ryan Baker explain the problem with Trump's Afghanistan strategy

4. Rick Hasen on the Supreme Court's decision to duck the North Carolina voting rights case.

5. Kevin Collins from his newsletter on what gets people to vote -- or to stay home

6. My Bloomberg View colleague Tobin Harshaw interviews Peter W. Singer on Trump's comments about aircraft carriers

7. And the Lawfare gang on the story that Trump revealed top-secret information to Russia. Works well with Azari's item above and with my similar comments on impeachment: that is, that Trump may have violated his oath of office.

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    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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