At a lunch with television news anchors on Thursday, President Trump was asked about the appointment of Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any possible ties to the Trump campaign. CNNs Jake Tapper shared Trumps response.
I believe it hurts our country terribly, he began, because it shows were a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country. And we have very important things to be doing right now, whether its trade deals, whether its military, whether its stopping nuclear all of the things that we discussed today. And I think this shows a very divided country.
Before we continue, lets parse that. This is a return to one of the hallmarks of the Trump transition period: The insistence that, since he won, the entire country should unify around him. From Nov. 9 to Jan. 19, Trump repeatedly called for the country to unify while intentionally antagonizing his opponents and making no political concessions that might inspire Democrats to want to work with him. It was a natural continuation of a campaign in which he never moderated the hard-right positions that carried him through the primary; even in office, he hasnt moderated them. Thats his prerogative, but its not going to unify the country.
You may be wondering how the appointment of special counsel shows that were divided. The answer, as he made clear as he kept talking on Thursday, is that he blames Democrats for Muellers appointment.
It also happens to be a pure exercise for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won because of the electoral college being slanted so much in their way, he said. Thats all this is. I think it shows division, and it shows that were not together as a country. And I think its a very, very negative thing. And hopefully this can go quickly, because we have to show unity if were going to do great things with respect to the rest of the world.
Trump has this tic where he internalizes his arguments and smooths them out until you hit a point where unpacking what hes saying requires knowing how he got there in the first place. Like the electoral college being slanted so much in their way. This is a reference to commentary during the campaign that the upper Midwest was considered a Democratic bulwark a blue wall, it was called thanks to those states voting Democratic consistently. Trumps exaggerated the importance of those states as part of his effort to exaggerate the importance and magnitude of his electoral vote win 306! 306! which is itself part of his effort to downplay the fact that he lost the popular vote by a historic margin. Thats the context for those nine words.
Trumps comments about the Democrats, though, are the broader point here. Trump has repeatedly blamed the Russia investigation on his political opponents. To wit:
This needs less unpacking. Trump is using his standard say-whatever strategy to accuse Democrats of ginning up the Russia investigation, knowing that some not-insignificant part of his base will buy it. They shouldnt.
The investigation into Russian meddling originated on at least two tracks. In early October, the Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence issued a highly unusual joint statement alerting the public (and state elections commissioners) to activity by the Russian government that appeared to be aimed at disrupting the election. This was the first major warning sign about Russias efforts and it came more than a month before the election. In fact, it came a day before the Access Hollywood tape was released, a period during the campaign when Democrats werent particularly worried about winning in November.
Meanwhile, the FBI was investigating contacts between members of Trumps campaign staff and Russia an investigation that former FBI director James B. Comey indicated began even earlier, in June. Before, that is, Trump was even his partys official nominee.
Clearly, Russias hacking of the Democratic National Committee was not Trumps fault, nor was it his fault that his former campaign manager Paul Manafort may have had questionable links to that country (though, of course, it is Trumps fault for hiring him despite that). But as the campaign, transition and his presidency unfolded, Trump kept doing things to make the Russia problem worse, not better.
Beyond all of that, its worth remembering the genesis of the appointment of Mueller. The order was signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, after Sessions recused himself from any Russia investigation thanks to that erroneous Senate testimony. Rosenstein had been in that position since only April 26 of this year meaning he was appointed to it by Trump. Whats more, Rosenstein was the person that Trump asked to write a memo justifying Comeys firing, despite it being clear (Rosenstein told the Senate on Thursday) that Trump planned to fire him anyway.
If you consider all of that evidence and think its the Democrats fault, I have to say I find that perplexing.
This, too, is very Trump, though. Trump only rarely on the campaign trail admitted any fault, once in an interview with Megyn Kelly and once during a speech after his second staff overhaul. Trumps M.O. has always been to fight, fight, fight, however he can.
In his current position, that might not be the best strategy.