Think of the avalanche of vitriol against James Comey. Trump fired him, misled the public about the reasons, and then absurdly trashed his reputation. But how dare Comey fight back and defend himself? How dare he "leak" a memo? Never mind that he stood up and answered questions, under oath, just days later. He's a "leaker," and no one likes a leaker. The same people who decry a rush to judgment against Trump are forwarding and sharing article after article claiming that Comey (without yet seeing the relevant evidence) potentially violated his employment agreement or even federal criminal statutes when he asked a friend to read excerpts of his memos to the New York Times.
Lost in the anger is a serious look at the truth (and implications) of his allegations. Did a president demand personal loyalty from an FBI director? Did he improperly ask him to drop an active criminal investigation of a former close adviser? Did he circumvent normal channels and demand that Comey, in essence, "clear" him publicly? Did Trump fire him when he failed to comply with these demands, and then hide the ball about the reason?
Instead, we get the Ken Starring of James Comey and Robert Mueller. It's not enough to trash Comey; now there's blood in the water around Mueller. Men like Newt Gingrich have pivoted on a dime. On May 17, Gingrich is declared that "Robert Mueller is superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity." On June 12, he attacked Mueller, saying that it was "time to rethink." Others already got the jump on Gingrich. On May 18, Judicial Watch put out a statement calling Mueller a "bizarre choice" to be special counsel — because he was allegedly too politically correct on his approach to Muslim terrorism when he was FBI director. How does that bear on his fitness to investigate various aspects of the Russian election-interference controversy?
The goal is clear — to remove the focus from the actual claims against Trump and instead focus on the alleged perfidy of his opponents. Who do you want to win? The man who beat Hillary Clinton? Or the backstabbers in the "deep state" who are launching a "soft coup"? And through it all, Trump dissembles and bullies — secure in the knowledge that his supporters will attack and seek to destroy his opponents, all while "defending" his own dishonesty by declaring, "It's just Trump being Trump. He fights."
Beware. What "worked" for Clinton is far less likely to work for the GOP, and what "worked" for Clinton rightly brought defeat and shame for Democrats in years to come. Sure, Clinton survived impeachment, but his party lost the next two presidential elections, and the stench of corruption clung to his wife and was instrumental in two humiliating Clinton presidential defeats. The Clinton playbook left a party robbed of moral authority to confront Trump, and it indeed helped make his victory possible.
And that was with the mainstream media far more Clinton-sympathetic than it is Trump-friendly. Trump can't win reelection with just his base, and there are already signs that outside the conservative bubble, Trump's act is wearing thin. In conservative-land, it's widely said that Comey "failed," that he's been completely discredited. Outside the bubble, Americans overwhelming believe Comey and disbelieve Trump.
"But Gorsuch" is the new "but abortion." Bob Mueller is the new Ken Starr. "Fake news" is the new "vast right-wing conspiracy." Hypocrisy abounds, and but for the double standards, many of Trump's most zealous defenders would have no standards at all. Cultural decay? The loss of public trust? Credibility gaps? Let the pastors worry about all that. In the meantime, get on or under the Trump Train, conservatives. There's a news cycle to win.
Commentary by David French, a senior writer for National Review. He is also a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an attorney.
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