How Trump World legal drama will affect the midterm election

Every attorney has an opinion on the ramifications of ...

Posted: Aug 22, 2018 2:32 PM
Updated: Aug 22, 2018 2:32 PM

Every attorney has an opinion on the ramifications of Tuesday's dramatic legal occurrences in Trump World.

But what is on the minds of political operatives dealing with the upcoming midterm? Here are five observations:

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The immediate implications for the midterm?

If all that happens between now and election day is what we saw from Manafort's conviction and Cohen's guilty plea, it is likely that voters will retreat to their tribes. If you love President Trump, you are probably going to believe what he said at his rally in West Virginia: "Where is the collusion? You know, they're still looking for collusion! Where is the collusion? Find some collusion. We want to find the collusion."

If you hate Trump, this validates your deepest desire -- to see him impeached. And it makes it likely that the most committed Democratic voters and donors will now demand that their party's nominees for House seats directly answer the question: will you vote to impeach the President now that he has been implicated in a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws?

This is tricky, because Democratic leadership has tried to tamp down impeachment talk on fears it will motivate Republican voters to turn out to protect their President. Now, there will be no avoiding it and Democrats who continue to pooh-pooh it risk the wrath of a bloodthirsty base that demands impeachment as the only remedy for what they regard as an illegitimate presidency.

If Democrats win the House, will they impeach?

I have no doubt that a House of Representatives under Democratic control will use the Cohen guilty plea, among other things, as grounds to impeach the President. While the underpinnings of the campaign finance case against Cohen are murky, there is no way the Democratic base will let this go. After all, they would have just delivered the House in a campaign fueled by anti-Trump fervor and a promise to hold him accountable.

If Democrats are unwilling to nullify this presidency based on Trump's supposed involvement in violating campaign finance laws in an election decided by 80 thousand votes in three states, their party's activists will occupy the Capitol until they move on articles of impeachment.

Does the threat of impeachment motivate Republican voters?

If Mueller does not write a report or produce evidence of collusion before the election, it is likely that Republican voters will stick with the President and believe that Cohen and Manafort were railroaded unnecessarily for things that happened long before Trump became a candidate.

Trump's escapades with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, the women Cohen says he paid in an effort to influence the election, happened in 2006, yet somehow Trump's lawyer is going to jail for it in 2018 because of the Russia investigation?

Manafort was convicted of personal shady dealings that predated his stint with Trump and had nothing to do with the 2016 presidential campaign.

This does not reduce the significance of their lawbreaking, but could fuel Republican voters' belief in Trump's view that the "Deep State" is conspiring to take him down, even if it means doing so over issues that have nothing to do with Russian collusion.

Will the President's travel schedule now change?

Hours before the Manafort and Cohen bombshells, officials with knowledge of the President's midterm campaign plans outlined an aggressive schedule that would put the president on the road rallying for candidates as the GOP fights to maintain control of Congress.

A core question for Republican candidates with significant suburban populations has always been how much to hug Trump. These legal developments will give them more pause and may cause a few to reconsider having the President campaign for them.

On the other hand, it is a fair bet that all Democratic candidates in targeted races are going to tie their Republican opponents to Trump anyway. Therefore, it would not be illogical for a GOP candidate in a tight race to roll the dice on a Trump visit to rally as many Republicans as possible and attempt to blunt an expected enthusiasm advantage for Democrats.

What should the White House do now?

Two things -- focus intensely on getting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh over the finish line and prepare for war in January.

There is nothing more important to Republicans than confirming a second Supreme Court justice. Democrats are already using Tuesday's legal problems to call for the confirmation process to be delayed on the grounds that Trump's presidency is "illegitimate."

The White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should rally the troops and plow forward with the plan to get Kavanaugh on the court by October, even if the media joins Democrats in ramping up calls to delay the confirmation hearings.

Finally, the White House must now prepare for the reality that 2019 will be spent on impeachment. Chief of Staff John Kelly must talk to legal counsel Emmet Flood and design a staffing plan that allows the White House to simultaneously fight impeachment and operate the federal government, as their candidate begins his own reelection campaign amid the furor sure to come should Democrats take over the House.

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