On March 24, about the same time that US president Donald Trump winded up his weekend at the Mar-a-Lago resort, Florida, Attorney General William Barr submitted a four-page letter to the US Congress: A summary of the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and obstruction of justice by Trump or his administration in the matter. This followed months of official probe and media scrutiny of the Trump presidency. Those four pages, and their political reception, have given the Democrats a reason to introspect.
As Barr informed Congress, the special counsel did not establish any criminal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is clear that Trump’s opposition, at least in this matter, may have been counting more on his lack of likeability than evidence, to make its case. Ever since he started running for office, Trump has invited a barrage of criticism for reasons ranging from his exceptionally problematic views on women to his harsh immigration policies and disdain for immigrants. However, in their earnest quest for nailing down POTUS, Trump’s critics may have been careless. The attempt to punish individuals in positions of authority who are abusing their power is always welcome. But merely adding to a stream of allegations — some made very publicly, often amplified by the media — may not be the smartest plan of action. It certainly can’t be the only plan. The Democrats must recognise that the Mueller anti-climax will inevitably be played up as a political victory for Trump now.
For the Democrats in the US, and for political adversaries of Trump-like strongmen, this episode is a lesson. Sometimes it helps to buckle down and doggedly pursue leads. Once allegations are substantiated, there will be time enough for strong, public takedowns. It doesn’t work the other way around.