My first reaction upon seeing this headline was, “Wow! Rudy’s strategy is working.” Giuliani’s been running around telling reporters this week that they’re giving Mueller until September 1 to agree to their terms for an interview. If not then the offer’s off the table until after the midterms. If Mueller wants to try to subpoena Trump before then and get blasted relentlessly by Republicans for meddling in a national campaign in its home stretch, let him. That’ll further discredit the Russiagate probe in voters’ eyes by making it look as politically partisan as Trump is forever claiming it is. Plus, the deadline underlines Trump’s larger message that the investigation has gone on too long and it’s time to wrap up for the good of the country.
Now here’s CNN’s data appearing to show that voters are receptive to that message. And not a slim majority of voters either. Fully 66 percent want the probe wrapped before the election. If it isn’t — and it almost certainly won’t be — then Mueller’s support is bound to take a hit. The public is moving in Trump’s direction.
But wait a sec. Go back and look at the question CNN asked more closely. They didn’t ask if the probe should be finished by Election Day, they asked if Mueller should try to finish it by Election Day. Which isn’t much of a question. Of course he should try to finish it by Election Day! He should try to finish it by tomorrow. The sooner it’s done and the country can assess the damage, the better. In fact, rummage through the crosstabs and you’ll see that this is one of the precious few questions about Russiagate on which all three partisan groups agree:
Normally Democrats and Republicans are polar opposites on Mueller-related matters. In this case everyone concurs that a speedy finish is for the best. The question would have been more interesting if CNN had dropped the part about “trying” to finish and instead had attached a hypothetical consequence to Mueller failing to wrap up before the election. E.g., “Should President Trump dismiss the special counsel if the investigation hasn’t concluded by November?” I do think the public’s gradually coming around to Trump’s view that this has gone on too long (even though it’s been short and productive by the historical standards of independent counsels) but there’s a world of difference between thinking Mueller should proceed as expeditiously as possible and thinking his authority should be stripped if he’s not done by such-and-such date. That’s the real, unasked question here.
The “finish up” data point is a good one for Trump, but not all of the data was as good. Here’s what it looked like when CNN asked if he should agree to testify under oath:
The Republican numbers are surprisingly soft but that’ll change as Trump’s intentions change. He’s spent the last year claiming he has nothing to hide and is eager to talk to Mueller; the GOP support for him testifying here reflects that. If he turns around tomorrow and says he can’t be party to a witch hunt and won’t talk, Republican numbers will turn on a dime against him testifying — but maybe not as much as they would have if he’d been skeptical about testifying all along. Even if they do, the gap among independents in favor of him testifying is too wide to be bridged by a change in Trump’s intentions. All of which is to say, if Mueller subpoenas Trump and (worst-case scenario) Trump is forced to take the Fifth to avoid testifying, there’s reason to believe from these numbers that it will hurt him politically. Probably not hugely given how calcified and polarized public opinion about him is, but maybe meaningfully. That’s a real risk to Rudy’s September 1 strategy and the GOP’s November hopes. Dare Mueller to subpoena him and … he might. And politically it might not go as well for Trump as he expects.
By the way, approval of Trump’s handling of Russiagate is up five points from June in CNN’s data — but Mueller’s handling of it is up six, and Mueller’s overall approval on the matter (47 percent) is quite a bit higher than Trump’s (34 percent). That’s probably because of the indictments he dropped last month on Russian intelligence. One thing Mueller can do to stave off public pressure to wrap up the investigation is produce periodic evidence that he’s making progress on uncovering actual crimes, not just spinning his wheels while he sniffs around for dirt on Trump. He did that by indicting the GRU operatives. Now the public will give him more time.