President Trump finds himself presented with a golden opportunity. A report published Friday afternoon by The New York Times could confirm for him his wildest suspicions: a conspiracy established at least as early as the spring of 2017 by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to undermine his presidency and attempt to remove him from office.
The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit. [The New York Times]
It does not matter in the slightest whether the Times article, which is based entirely on anonymous sources, is accurate. (Rosenstein called the article "inaccurate" and "factually incorrect.") This president does not care about facts. He is concerned with perception and with opportunity. Here are both.
This is Trump's chance to rid himself not only of Rosenstein but of Robert Mueller, the man Rosenstein appointed to lead the special counsel investigation into supposed collusion between the president's 2016 campaign and the Russian government. Trump can, with what passes for impunity in an administration whose downfall appears to have been plotted from within, fire both of them. He probably should.
Will he seize the chance? It is at least possible given how much he values the wisdom of various Fox News personalities. The oracles of high Trumpism have already spoken unequivocally: One way or another Rosenstein must be fired. If Attorney General Jeff Sessions will not do it himself, then he must go as well.
Firing Rosenstein and Mueller would make Trump's base ecstatic. The tweets write themselves. At last, Trump would be able to say, he has uncovered the REAL COLLUSION, between DEEP STATE and DEMS, to undermine our great country. Would it draw the ire of moderates who are otherwise inclined to vote for Republican congressional candidates regardless of their views of the administration? Possibly. But the Brett Kavanaugh situation has already made their support a more remote possibility than it was a month ago.
If Mueller has any charges he would like to bring against a person whose last name rhymes with "Gump," he should produce them immediately. I do not mean to suggest that it is likely anything would come of such an indictment in the short term. People who believe that it is possible for the president of the United States to be charged with a crime by legal officers whose authority proceeds from him do not understand the American constitution or the nature of executive authority generally. It is, however, entirely possible that a now-meaningless indictment could lay the grounds for Trump's impeachment next year if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.
As it happens, I do not think the firing of either Rosenstein or Mueller is imminent, or even likely. If the president has shown us anything in the course of a year and a half in office, it is that despite his reputation for quick decision making and the ruthless handling of dissenters, he is not inclined to fire people when it is not a weekly plot point for his NBC program. He is more interested in rhetoric and performative outrage than in policy or the practical duties of his office. He could take no action following the Times report and still mine it for tweets and speeches. The effect for his base, assuming the news will be relayed through the appropriate channels, might be more or less equal without costing him a thing.
Whatever comes of the Times revelations, certain points can be made. One is that the American republic is in the middle of a constitutional crisis in which the executive branch, having absorbed the duties of Congress and guaranteed the acquiescence of the judiciary, is nevertheless paralyzed from within. The other, which is even more unnerving, is that this extraordinary set of circumstances makes virtually no difference in the life of the average citizen of this country. Commerce continues apace. Stocks are going up. Google releases updates. People watch Netflix and YouTube streams of video gamers. Others make podcasts. We eat out.
The elaborate machinery of Washington, regardless of its state of repair, is irrelevant in a globalized liberal capitalist world. We live in an economy rather than a nation.