The Slatest

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: Maybe Mueller Will Just Grind the Administration to Dust Nice and Slow

Donald Trump, Melania Trump, and a ferocious dinosaur at the White House on Monday.

Carlos Barria/Reuters

The Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

This column has been speculating for quite a while about what might happen to Donald Trump when Robert Mueller’s investigation came to fruition. (“Fruition.” Funny word.) And while it seems likely that there will be many more shoes to drop regarding the special counsel’s work, one thing that’s struck me during Day 1 of Mueller Fallout is that I’ve probably been spending too much time thinking about how much he’ll be able to prove and what the direct political consequences of his findings might be—as in, whether legislators and voters will come to believe that Donald Trump and his advisers knowingly colluded with Russian sabotage of the Clinton campaign, perhaps because Mueller uncovers the vaunted smoking gun—and not enough about the secondary consequences. A tweet by the Times’ Nate Cohn gets at this:

There wasn’t much direct damage to Trump today; the charges against Paul Manafort, Richard Gates, and George Papadopoulos indeed don’t involve “proof of collusion.” (Though we did get more evidence in Papadolpoulos’ case that Trump figures were happy to express a willingness to collude when the subject was raised.) What Cohn points out is that this “positive” spin for Trump and his Republican defenders still involves, well, spending a lot of time discussing Trump advisers’ indictments and/or convictions for crimes of corruption. (The national security adviser who Cohn is referring to is Michael Flynn, who also seems likely to be charged at the very least with crimes related to financial disclosure.) Elsewhere, New York’s Eric Levitz catalogues all the Mueller-related fodder Democrats already have with which to portray Trump’s inner circle as a crew of greedy mercenaries willing to do pretty much anything a wealthy foreigner asks of them—sleazeballs who live in luxury thanks to what you might even call a “rigged” or “crooked” system. In this telling, the president is at best a failure who said he’d bring “the best people” into government but has instead surrounded himself with lying goons. As Cohn says, that’s not a winning message!

Moreover, to an extent that I didn’t expect but probably should have, even today’s non-collusion-related charges sucked up all the oxygen available in the news cycle. The administration is not going to be building momentum for tax reform or whatever when stuff like this is going on. What it appears that we learned today is that the Mueller era of Trump’s presidency—so long as he lets it continue, though firing Mueller would open its own bag of … I don’t know, nightmare worms—is going to be a politically hellish slog even if the smoking-gun death blow never arrives.

Today’s meter level is higher than yesterday’s, but in a tentative way. It’s early yet!