If Trump winds up firing Rosenstein, Republicans face midterm disaster

If Trump winds up firing Rosenstein, Republicans face midterm disaster
© Anna Moneymaker

It’s not that President TrumpDonald John TrumpWayfair refutes QAnon-like conspiracy theory that it's trafficking children Stone rails against US justice system in first TV interview since Trump commuted his sentence Federal appeals court rules Trump admin can't withhold federal grants from California sanctuary cities MORE plays with electoral fire, it’s that he seems to wallow in napalm. The latest incendiarism involves Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinSupreme Court to hear dispute over Democrats' access to Mueller materials Republicans release newly declassified intelligence document on FBI source Steele GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst MORE and how his dismissal might impact the midterm elections. A bit of perspective: The 2006 Democratic wave elections were about “corruption.” The 2010 Republican wave elections were about “ObamaCare.” Republicans know the 2018 elections aren’t breaking their way when the message is “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.”

No episode of “The Apprentice” approximates the drama, suspense and likely ratings of tomorrow’s “woodshed moment” between the president of the United States and the guy who may or may not have tried to fire the president through the 25th Amendment, which now vies with that old favorite, the 5th Amendment, in popular recognition.


Just 41 days before the midterm elections, the conventional wisdom is that Trump can’t afford to let Rosenstein leave. But haven’t we learned that “conventional” and “wisdom” aren’t exactly overused to describe this White House? For midterm mavens, here’s the prognosis: Every midterm is a referendum on the sitting president’s party.

According to the Gallup Daily tracking of support for Trump since his inauguration, Democrats have gone from a negligible 13 percent to a barely discernible 6 percent. A Rosenstein adieu won’t have much impact there. In the same tracking, Republican support has held steady at about 88 percent. The “he can shoot someone on 5th Avenue” crowd won’t drift if Trump cuts him loose.

With the poles frozen, this is a fight for the middle. These are the independents whose support for Trump has declined from 42 percent to 33 percent. These are the swing voters and the nonpartisans. Nothing swings them more than partisan abuse of power. Like, say, when the boss fires the guy in charge of the guy investigating the boss.

Now Republicans stand aghast at another squandered and shocking news cycle. Two things at the tip of every pundit’s tongue this week are Rod Rosenstein and Christine Blasey Ford. Meanwhile, news of a successful economy seems to hover irrelevantly above the heads of most voters.

In a typical environment, a Rosenstein departure from the Justice Department would light a match to the midterm elections. It would feed the narrative of chaos, drown out messaging on the economy, and pull independent voters away from Republican candidates. But this is “Make America Hysterical Again” … and again … and again.

Today it’s Rod Rosenstein. A few weeks ago it was Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Runoff elections in Texas, Alabama set for Tuesday Sessions fights for political life in Alabama runoff The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - All eyes on Florida as daily COVID-19 cases hit 15K MORE. Last season, it was Colin Kaepernick. Once, Evelyn Farkas, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Ukraine, was in Trump’s crosshairs and spilling from the wagging tongues of cable news experts. Remember her? President Trump hasn’t exactly demonstrated a highly strategic approach to the midterms, other than screaming into an echo chamber. Sure, he doesn’t want to risk a Democratic majority in Congress using subpoenas to poke around his business dealings.

But there’s likely a higher strategic imperative in the Rosenstein drama: Continue to muddy the waters and numb the electorate. Blow up the special counsel investigation even if it leaves House and Senate Republicans as collateral damage. Discredit the very institution of justice so he can mock justice. Because the one true thing Donald Trump has sworn to protect and defend is Donald Trump.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - As virus concerns grow, can it get worse for Trump? The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats zero in on health care as Obamacare lawsuit nears key deadline MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist whose latest book is “Big Guns.” You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and on Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.