How the Mueller fairy tale ends
Perhaps the best argument I have seen in favor of repealing President Trump's pointless tax cuts is the superabundance of disposable income American liberals apparently spend on things like Robert Mueller bobble-head dolls, "Mueller is Coming" and "It's Mueller time" T-shirts, Mueller "prayer" candles, and even children's books featuring a super-buff bare-chested but tie-wearing Mueller lookalike hero. Turning the affectless head of a special counsel investigation into some kind of badass comic-book character who is going to rescue America from the nefarious clutches of — I wish I were making this up — "President Ronald Plump" could not be more childish. Goodness knows how many adults really believe all this stuff.
I feel bad for them, in the way that I feel bad for kids who are about to discover that the Tooth Fairy is fake. After 17 months of appending compound adjectives ("Russia-linked," "Kremlin-backed") to the names of an increasingly obscure cast of characters accused of things like sending spam emails and holding pointless meetings that went nowhere, it looks like we are finally getting close to the end of the Mueller probe. A report in Politico suggests that what skeptics have argued for more than a year and a half is true: namely, that Mueller and his team have not found any smoking-gun evidence of "collusion" between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government because no such collusion took place.
It's going to be a letdown. Not only is it likely that the final report will not reveal that the president has been a KGB agent since the late '80s, as at least one mainstream liberal columnist fantasized. It is also possible that it will never even be released to the public, at least not in full. Unless they are granted permission to review them under various conditions that will be imposed by the Department of Justice, not even members of Congress will be able to read Mueller's findings. For reasons that have as much to do with Mueller's own personality and style as they do with the sensitive nature of the material, the text itself is unlikely to be the sweeping anti-Trump manifesto that the president's fiercest liberal critics are longing for. There is every reason to believe that it will be a straightforward, minimally expansive document that does not volunteer information that is not absolutely relevant to the main findings.
The fantasy of a piece of paper that would explain away the painful reality that a buffoonish television host beat a former secretary of state and senator in the 2016 presidential election simply by running a better campaign is not coming true.
The best hope for Mueller's cheerleaders was not that games of connect-the-dots would implicate Trump in a treasonous plot to sell the White House to Moscow but that the loose-lipped president would trap himself in a lie, perhaps meaningless in itself, about some detail or other that would open him to a charge of perjury. This would not have proved that collusion took place — if anything it would go a long way towards vindicating the president's own "witch hunt" narrative — but it would have satisfied the critics, who just want to see the president charged with a crime. Unfortunately, Rudy Giuliani and the rest of Trump's legal team made sure that this was never going to happen. Every question has been put to the president in writing and answered with the assistance of dozens of professionals with longer attention spans and a firmer grasp of capitalization and punctuation.
While it is still possible that Mueller will come up with something substantive, or that something flimsy drawn from some version of Mueller's report will be seized upon by Democrats as evidence if they attempt to impeach Trump next year, it will ultimately be irrelevant. Impeaching the president and removing him from office is a campaign promise on which many Democrats are running this fall. They don't care what is or is not in the report any more than those of us who have grown impatient with all the lunatic decontextualized speculation about Trump and Russia do. Most Americans made up their mind about these questions long ago. The difference is that unlike professional politicians, hundreds of thousands of serious Mueller watchers are actually invested in the reality of the collusion theory. For them the truth might be painful.
There are some obvious lessons here. One is that our enemies, real or perceived, are not all working together to destroy all the things we love. Another is that simple explanations are better than complicated ones — an insincere campaign that doesn't even try in the states that it needs to win is probably going to lose, especially to an opponent who has broken with his party in historic ways in order to appease voters in the states in question. The last and most important is that politics is not an episode of The West Wing: Do-gooders rolling up their shirt sleeves and completing some boring procedural task — writing a complicated report, polishing the text of a rousing speech — in between monologues is rarely how the good guys beat the bad guys.
We are now a mere 469 days away from Democrats' 2020 Iowa caucuses. It is time for them to give up on fairy tales and find a candidate who can actually beat this guy.