Trump’s Liabilities

Jonathan Chait has a much-derided piece up at New York that says Trump’s corruption, not the Russia scandal, is his real political liability. I tend to agree with Steve M that Trump’s evident corruption alone isn’t going to separate Trump from his base, and probably not from most right-leaning voters. To them, “drain the swamp” never meant a return to clean government, but kicking out leftists and Democrats.

That Trump is easily the most corrupt POTUS ever to sit in the White House is, to me, beyond dispute. Most of the big, splashy scandals touching previous presidential administrations, such as Teapot Dome, did not involve the presidents themselves. Watergate was an exception. And Trump makes Nixon look almost honest. Do read Joy Crane and Nick Tabor, “501 Days in Swampland,” on a comprehensive list of Trump’s self-dealing so far, that we know of.  And, seriously, Teapot Dome looks like just a regular day at the office for anyone in the Trump cabinet.

And, of course, Trump supporters will just say “What about Crooked Hillary?” And that atones for all sins.

No, the corruptions alone will not cause Trump’s approval ratings to go even lower. “Getting” what’s going on requires taking in explanations that are too complex to fit on a bumper  sticker, which pretty much guarantees that they won’t make the teevee news. And most Americans won’t hear about it.

However, that doesn’t mean Trump is exempt from ruin. For example, what if Trump’s corruption went on trial?

A federal judge Wednesday allowed Maryland and the District of Columbia to proceed with their lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of accepting unconstitutional gifts from foreign interests, but limited the case to the president’s involvement with the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte’s ruling dismissed other sections of the lawsuit that raised concerns about the impact of foreign gifts to the president from Trump Organization properties outside of Washington.

Maryland and D.C. accuse the president of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bans the president and other federal officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments as well as U.S. states. Specifically, they allege nearby businesses have been subjected to increased competition as a result of the foreign traffic to the Trump Hotel.

Media coverage of this trial could cause media to cover a small portion of Trump’s corruption as evidence dripped out day by day. It’s the drip, drip, drip of scandal that wears down administrations. Jennifer Rubin writes,

If Maryland and the District are successful, Trump may be ordered to do something he has so far avoided and which spineless Republicans have refused to demand — namely, disclose what his businesses receive from foreign governments, and either permanently jettison his ties to those operations or reject payments and other things of value from foreign governments (e.g. trademarks in China). Congress could of course choose to approve Trump’s receipt of his emoluments, but House and Senate Republicans — who like the rest of us don’t actually know what Trump’s businesses receive from what sources — have been loath to do that.

Moreover, if a Democratic Congress is elected, it can choose explicitly to disallow Trump’s receipt of foreign emoluments, setting up a possible constitutional clash. If either Congress or a court holds that Trump must give up certain parts of his operations (or segregate any monies and other valuable offerings from foreign governments), he may finally need to decide whether the presidency is worth giving up parts of his financial empire. Moreover, before a final decision on his retention of foreign emoluments, either Congress or litigants (in one of three cases currently ongoing) could demand a raft of financial records exposing for the first time Trump’s finances, including his tax returns.

There are some ifs in there, but there is potential for real damage.

But Trump has other liabilities. The stock market is taking another tumble today on news that China is retaliating in Trump’s trade war and after Trump’s bizarre bad-mouthing of Amazon. A friend of mine who understands markets better than I do pointed out that from November 9th of 2016 to January 26 of 2018, the Dow Jones Industrial average climbed roughly 8,500 points, or about 47 percent, to an all-time high of about 26,616. But then, “with his revolving-door cabinet, protectionist stance, incipient trade war, and constant barrage of attacking tweets (Amazon his latest target), the Dow has been in free-fall, currently at about 23,600, giving up 3,000 points since the all-time high (that is, giving back 35% of its total gains since Election Day) and firmly in correction territory.”

My friend thinks the market will slide further, and if it does its going to piss off the investor class. (Update: See “The Stock Market Is Having its Worst Second Quarter Since the Great Depression” at Fortune.)

As far as the Mueller investigation is concerned, I don’t expect any real fireworks before Paul Manafort goes on trial in July. As it is, right now if you stopped the average American on the street and asked who Paul Manafort is, most probably couldn’t tell you. Mueller is still making connections between Manafort/the Trump campaign and Russia, but most Americans haven’t heard the details. Trial coverage could change that. And if the July trial doesn’t do the trick, Manafort is set for another trial in September. Just as mid-term campaigns are heating up.

The fact that Trump is too stupid to keep his ass covered is a factor here, too. We learned today that Trump floated an invitation for Putin to visit Washington, which was completely not brilliant for somebody who needs to prove he’s not in Putin’s pocket.

Right now, most Republicans in Congress are standing by Trump, but if Republicans lose the House as is currently being predicted in many quarters, that could change. Will they want him at the top of the ticket in 2020? Some of them might decide that playing Howard Baker and impeaching Trump’s ass would be the noble, selfless — and politically smart — next step.

So yeah, the blimp has some leaks. It’s not going to stay afloat forever.