Just as President Trump is putting the Mueller investigation behind him and has an opportunity to enjoy the Mueller aftermath, he’s getting lots of advice from people who’ve never supported him…and may have been sympathetic to the soft-power coup that seems to have been taking place…on what to do next. One of those is former President George W. Bush’s political adviser, Karl Rove. Rove takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal today to counsel restraint:
Only Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 could have been a sweeter day for the present occupants of the White House than last Sunday. The publication of Attorney General William Barr’s letter summarizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s report lifted an enormous political weight off President Trump and his team.
Mr. Mueller found no evidence that “the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Mr. Barr concluded “the evidence developed” during the Mueller investigation “is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” These findings demolished the principal “resistance” talking points, leaving many Democrats angry and discombobulated.
Mr. Trump now has an unusual chance to fashion something like the presidential honeymoon that media bitterness over Hillary Clinton’s loss denied him when he took office. Team Trump should use the Mueller report to pivot to issues, like the economy and the opioid crisis, that matter to swing voters who will decide the 2020 presidential election.
The Mueller report may help Mr. Trump’s rating and, more important, drive an increase in his strongly-approve numbers and a decrease in his strongly disapproves. After all, he was proved right and his worst detractors were proved wrong. But reiterating old grievances about the investigation’s unfairness won’t materially change those ratings.
The worst thing President Trump could do is to heed this advice, the main one is that Karl Rove has a proven track record of taking a winning counterattack and turning it into craven defeat. Let’s take the Iraq War, 2003 iteration, as an example. One of the casus belli was Iraqi possession of chemical weapons that had been prohibited under the terms of surrender of the Gulf War and the stiff arming of international inspectors. We know, conclusively, that Iraq did have those weapons. In 2014 and 2015 both the New York Times and the Washington Post reported that chemical weapons were purchased by the CIA, they were captured by US forces, and some US soldiers suffered injuries from exposure to chemical weapons. See Chemical Weapons Discovered In Iraq; Washington Post Says They Don’t Count and NYT: Iraqi WMD Existed And The CIA Bought Them. No less a source than Wikileaks provided evidence of contemporaneous military reports of finding WMD, see Wikileaks On Iraqi WMD. Now we can quibble all day over whether these are the weapons the Bush administration was talking about but what is indisputable is a) chemical weapons were found and b) the Bush administration never mentioned it despite having this thrown in their faces for years.
How could that be? Let me refer you to another of my posts, Karl Rove Suppressed WMD Discoveries
It is difficult to read the report this week by Eli Lake alleging that Karl Rove suppressed any push-back on the meme that Bush lied about WMD in Iraq without this question springing to mind: does Rove like to lose? This comes on the heels of a New York Times report that not only were WMD found in Iraq, but several US servicemembers were injured by them. (As an aside, some of what the Times reports on was known, Wikileaks, for instance, contained evidence of WMD and my friend, Jim Lacey, did an extensive article at National Review on what was known.)
Starting in 2004, some members of the George W. Bush administration and Republican lawmakers began to find evidence of discarded chemical weapons in Iraq. But when the information was brought up with the White House, senior adviser Karl Rove told them to “let these sleeping dogs lie.”
Lake goes on to report on efforts by Rick Santorum, then engaged in a hotly contested senatorial campaign, and others to get the White House to go on the offensive over the issue. I agree with Rove that it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, but the absence of WMD in Iraq was not a sleeping dog. It was a rabid Rottweiler hanging onto the ass of the Bush Administration. More from Lake:
One might think a politically vulnerable Bush White House would’ve seized on Santorum’s discovery. After all, Bush and his subordinates famously accused Iraq of having active weapons of mass destruction programs.
But at least in 2005 and 2006, the Bush White House wasn’t interested. “We don’t want to look back,” Santorum recalled Rove as saying (though Santorum stressed he was not quoting verbatim conversations he had more than eight years ago). “I will say that the gist of the comments from the president’s senior people was ‘We don’t want to look back, we want to look forward.’”
What Rove is recommending here is exactly the same strategy that he sold to George W. Bush. Be magnanimous. Take your hits. Don’t fight back. The other side are really good people and won’t bother you. Your superior virtue will be its own reward.
This, not to put too fine a point on it, is utter bullsh**. Both Bush and Trump were under sustained attack by the most vile sort of partisan who is hellbent on destroying them personally and politically. What did ignoring the WMD issue get President Bush? A perpetual place in our history books as the man who lied as a way to take us to war. Pushback during the war, even if the pushback was constested, would have muddied the waters and could very well have turned the tide in the 2006 election by not making his supporters have to defend something even Bush wouldn’t defend.
President Trump can tout the economy and deregulation and whatever he wishes, but he can never, for a second, let the nation forget what the Democrats and their fellow travelers of the Resistance and NeverTrump did. They caused an investigation that lasted in excess of 670 days. They stopped any momentum he had upon entering the White House. They tried to send his family members to prison. They tried to force him to resign. more that owning it to himself, he owes it to the nation to make sure that anyone involved in setting the predicate for this ridiculous abuse of power is forced from public life and, if possible, prosecuted. He needs to make the position taken by Democrats a central feature of a nationalized 2020 race and make Democrats at all levels defend what they said.
Rove is wrong. Now is not the time to “pivot to issues, like the economy and the opioid crisis.” Now is the time to do a pivot turn on their faces.