By early fall, some of Mr. Steele’s memos had been given to the F.B.I., which was already investigating Mr. Trump’s Russian ties, and to journalists. An MI6 official, whose job does not permit him to be quoted by name, said that in late summer or early fall, Mr. Steele also passed the reports he had prepared on Mr. Trump and Russia to British intelligence. Mr. Steele was concerned about what he was hearing about Mr. Trump, and he thought that the information should not be solely in the hands of people looking to win a political contest.
Taken together, these things can’t be taken together. Trump has made a series of pledges that can’t be reconciled. If he knew this during the campaign, he is cynical. If he is only finding out now, he is benighted. In either case, something has to give.
The result is quantifiable. A Quinnipiac poll from Nov. 17 to 20 — the quiet, hope-and-change phase — showed a decided bump in Trump’s popularity and in general national optimism. It didn’t last long. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, the numbers have essentially returned to Trump’s (historically dismal) pre-election levels.
Will Trump learn to stop dividing Americans? Trump won by pitting working-class whites against immigrants and “elites.” His rhetoric served to inflame passions after police shootings. He enters office with one of the worst approval ratings in history. Unless he can unite rather than subdivide and inspire rather than berate, his approval will sink, he’ll lose his political mojo and his party will suffer in the midterms.
Right now the disagreements are manifesting themselves as cracks in Republicans’ stranglehold on Washington. But keep an eye on how much those cracks widen. It could mean the difference between whether Trump’s grab-bag conservative populism reshapes the Republican Party — or gets buried by more traditional Republicans who don’t agree.
As of this writing, Trump has not responded to the fact that the Justice Department’s Inspector General will be investigating whether the FBI took illegal or unethical steps to help Trump win the presidency at Clinton’s expense. But if he is true to form, he will politicize that inquiry, too. His popularity may never rise above water, but he can still leave plenty of institutional damage in his wake. And, of course, he could start a war.
The need for an independent investigation of Comey’s behavior is manifest. By injecting himself into the campaign at the last minute, he violated long-standing traditions and rules of the Justice Department. His revelations were followed by a torrent of leaks from his agency, all apparently aimed at damaging Clinton’s campaign. Inspectors general have no power to fire or prosecute; they may only refer their findings to the authorities with such powers. But these investigators do have a tradition of independence, and Horowitz’s judgment will have important historical resonance—if he’s allowed to make it.
“This was something of huge significance, way above party politics,” the former spy told me. “I think [Trump’s] own party should be aware of this stuff as well.” He noted that he believed Russian intelligence’s efforts aimed at Trump were part of Vladimir Putin’s campaign to “disrupt and divide and discredit the system in Western democracies.”
Protesters distraught over Trump’s victory will be flooding into Washington next weekend, creating a potent — and potentially tense — mix as they collide with the billionaire’s die-hard supporters at hotels and restaurants, and on the National Mall. Like much of Trump’s campaign, the festivities and crowd descending on Washington for the inauguration will not neatly fit into Washington’s norms.
“I think those tweets are just the latest indication that Donald Trump is someone who’s very insecure in his victory, and I understand why. Every day there are new developments — new shoes dropping, so to speak — that call into question the legitimacy of his win.”
But Trump’s bounce has been sharply limited by his failure to take advantage of his honeymoon movement by doing any kind of meaningful outreach to reassure those alarmed by his victory. His numbers have plateaued at an underwater level that leave him as the least popular president-elect of all time.
Trump could have — but did not — choose to use his transition period to address the public’s concerns about those issues or try to put to rest the public’s very serious doubts about his temperament. That leaves both Trump and his co-partisans in Congress essentially hostage to events. The first time anything goes wrong, Trump will be facing a public that’s primed to believe the president is ill-tempered, dishonest, unqualified, and already doing a bad job — and he has no media magic that can help him cover that up.
In the end, Obamacare repeal and replacement will be an incredibly complex and likely an incredibly lengthy task. There’s no guarantee of success at the end for Republicans. But there are many points indeed at which things could go horribly awry.