Early Returns

Firing Mueller Has No Upside for Trump

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Not a good look.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

With an investigation into possible obstruction of justice by Donald Trump now confirmed, there's even more talk about the possibility that the president might fire the special prosecutor. I have no idea what he'll do, but to be clear: He would almost certainly be severely damaging himself by doing so. 

We can't know for sure what the public's reaction would be, but it certainly seems likely that it would be severely negative, pushing his approval ratings even lower. We can't know for sure where Trump's approval floor might be, or even if it is lower than his current 38 percent. What we do know is that several previous presidents including George W. Bush reached as low as about 25 percent; that governors sometimes go even lower; that Trump has been losing ground at about the same rate Barack Obama did (but from a much lower starting point); and that Trump's strong support has eroded along with his overall approval.  

We can also guess at the information environment following such a move. Democrats would certainly blast it and jump to talk about impeachment. They would be joined by virtually every "neutral" opinion leader (no one is really neutral, but plenty of people are not aligned with either party and do not act as consistent supporters of one party) and by at least a handful of Republicans, while the bulk of mainstream Republicans would go into hiding. Only a fraction of Republican opinion leaders would loudly back the president. We can guess all of that because of how everyone reacted to the firing of James Comey, and because of the reaction the last time a president fired a special prosecutor who was investigating him. 

No, impeachment, conviction and removal from office by the Republican-majority Congress would not follow immediately. But it's a real mistake to believe that the only two settings for same-party members of Congress are enthusiastic support for the president and complete opposition (including moving toward impeachment). We've already seen fairly serious hearings in the Senate, and even some in the House -- in other words, some Republicans in Congress have already moved quite a bit away from enthusiastic support, and very few are really at that level of support. Another outrageous action by the president would almost certainly push most of them another notch or three in that direction from wherever they are now. That's especially true if Trump's approval falls another few percentage points.

None of that means firing the special prosecutor would necessarily lead directly to impeachment, although it could. But damage to a presidency can be very real even if it falls short of impeachment; we've already seen the consequences of presidential weakness in leaks from the bureaucracy, resistance from the courts and the states, and a lack of strong support from Republicans in Congress. 

So, sure, Trump may do it anyway, either because he once again badly mistakes the political situation or just because he can't control himself, whatever the consequences. But it would be a terrible choice. 

1. Russell W. Mills and Jennifer L. Selin at the Monkey Cage on one way for Congress to increase its capacity without actually voting themselves a higher budget. Me? I'm for the higher budget. 

2. Michael Linden at Business Insider on the failure of the Kansas tax-slashing experiment

3. Paul Waldman at the Plum Line is entirely correct about Democrats fighting hard, especially the bit about symbolism. Symbolic politics can be appropriate at times, but it isn't fighting hard. 

4. Jamelle Bouie at Slate on the Virginia Republican Party

5. Susan Chira on interruptions

6. And Neil Irwin at the Upshot on Janet Yellen and inflation

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    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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