It is impossible to get at that in a meaningful way without considering the unsettling question: What sort of man is the president of these United States? We know he is a habitual liar, one who tells obvious lies for no apparent reason, from claiming to own hotels that he does not own to boasting about having a romantic relationship with Carla Bruni, which never happened. (“Trump is obviously a lunatic,” Bruni explained.) He invented a series of imaginary friends to lie to the New York press about both his business and sexual careers. He has conducted both his private and public lives with consistent dishonesty and dishonor. He is not a man who can be taken at his word.
Conservatives used to care about that sort of thing: Bill Bennett built a literary empire on virtue, and Peggy Noonan wrote wistfully of a time “When Character Was King.” But even if we set aside any prissy moral considerations and put a purely Machiavellian eye on the situation, we have to conclude that having a man such as Trump as president and presumptive leader of the Republican party is an enormous problem for conservatives and for the country corporately. Allegations of petty corruption against Donald Trump cannot simply be dismissed out of hand, because no mentally functioning and decently informed adult thinks that Donald Trump, of all people, is above that sort of thing. Quid pro quo patronage? He’s proud of it. Dishonesty? He boasts about it in a book published under his name. Question: If a young, attractive, blonde woman employed by the Trump Organization came forward claiming to be having an affair with the president, why wouldn’t you believe her? Because Donald Trump isn’t that kind of guy? He’s precisely that kind of guy — that’s the main reason anybody outside of New York ever knew his name in the first place.
Of course it is the case that Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans are predisposed to believe the worst about the man. But the fact is that doing so is not obviously wrong or unreasonable. Trump apologists instinctively want to treat Democrats’ exaggeration and hysteria as contemptible scandal-mongering, but their defenses — no hard evidence of collusion with the Putin regime! — sound a lot like “no controlling legal authority.”