Election 2020

Managing Expectations in Political Warfare

Mueller Departs the US Capitol

Last year, Donald Trump promised to “Make America Great Again,” to repeal Obamacare, and to build a “big, beautiful wall” — and make Mexico pay for it. Last week, Democrats in the House of Representatives actually held a vote to impeach him, after many liberal news outlets and politicians had promised his end was nigh.

Also last week, mainstream media outlets botched not one, not two, but three massive stories about the Russia investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Each story promised a twist in the investigation that could spell Trump’s doom, and each turned out to be a dud.

Meanwhile, the economy remains solid, some form of tax reform seems likely to become law, some Trump associates face serious charges, and everyone is really really angry — and doesn’t want to admit they’re disappointed. The New York Times suggested Trump had an unrealistic expectation of the presidency’s powers, and it seems liberals have an unrealistic expectation of Mueller’s impact.

Liberals see Trump as the abomination of desolation. They scream “Not My President!” They protest and protest and protest. They knock over hundred-year-old statues that have nothing to do with Trump, just because he champions American greatness.

While only 40 percent of Americans sayd they think Trump should be impeached and removed from office, a whopping 72 percent of black Americans say so, along with 52 percent of Hispanic Americans. More than two-thirds of Democrats (69 percent) say he should be impeached and removed. A full 91 percent of Republicans disagree.

Conservatives see a hostile media, jumping on Trump’s every move. They see media outlets obsessing over a koi pond. They see The New York Times — the country’s newspaper of record — working to rehabilitate Communism, an ideology that killed more people than any other force in history. At least the Times noted that Trump isn’t Hitler. Thanks, I guess.

Some conservatives see more than a hostile media, however. National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy suggests that the entire Mueller investigation is a salvo in political warfare — a tactic to discredit President Trump and undermine his 2020 candidacy, more than a search for truth or an investigation into one particular crime.

Meanwhile, conservatives also see bombshells about Hillary Clinton’s corruption. New revelations underscored corruption in the Uranium One deal, and suggested Mueller might have been complicit. Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer notorious for meeting with Donald Trump Jr. during the campaign, also met with Fusion GPS — the firm the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid to compile the Trump dossier — before and after the Trump Jr. meeting. Oh, and the FBI arrested Russian spies trying to get close to Clinton, right around the time of Uranium One.

America hasn’t moved on from the 2016 election. Liberals see a president elected by colluding with Russia, intent on undermining Barack Obama’s legacy and bringing hell on earth. Conservatives see Barack Obama working to undermine Donald Trump before he even entered the Oval Office (FISA surveillance, anyone?), and a media bent on destroying the duly elected commander-in-chief.

Liberals are so focused on attacking Trump, they don’t notice just how far off the deep end they’ve gone. Republicans are so focused on defending Trump, they can’t acknowledge the damage he has done to their party.

A few weeks ago, Wall Street Journal Assistant Editorial Features Editor Jason Willick noted that the “Russia scandal is about expectations.”

“Donald Trump sets laughable expectations for himself and his administration, which he will be unable to deliver on, and which his critics often rightly mock,” Willick explained in a Twitter thread. “Similarly, Russia maximalists have set absurd expectations for this story. They have been insisting that the evidence would eventually show unforgivable criminal activity going up to the highest levels. Espionage. Treason.”

He noted that “if the story as it actually unfolds does not actually support this (which it so far does not), they look silly. Even though what is being exposed is bad!”

“Since we’ve been promised grand conspiracies, mere lying to investigators charges—which is serious enough—looks like nothing,” Willick explained.

“In other words, Trump critics’ bloodthirstiness has undermined their ability to adequately prosecute the actual fruits of this investigation. Manafort and Flynn are horrible characters; Trump’s hiring of them shows his negligence and disqualifyingly poor judgment,” the WSJ editor noted.

He concluded that the “fan fiction approach to Trump-Mueller is not doing [the] resistance any favors. Instead of spinning wild conspiracies, set better expectations, and then meet them.”

In this thread, Willick delivered an important message to both sides. Both Trump and the liberals have set unreasonably high expectations, and blamed the other side for failing to meet them.

Willick may have gone too far in saying Trump showed “disqualifyingly poor judgment,” but Manafort’s connections with Russia — his serving Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet in Ukraine — had been widely known long before Trump hired him. Trump likely hired Manafort in order to win the Republican National Convention — Manafort helped Reagan win in 1980, after all — but he still hired a man with shady ties to Russia.

The investigation is far from over, but it seems increasingly unlikely that Trump is anything comparable to a Russian agent. Even the Trump Jr. meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya may have been a Clinton set-up, and as PJ Media’s Liz Sheld noted this morning, Trump rejected offers to meet with Russians during the election.

Trump has made big mistakes (like hiring Manafort), and his blustering style may have gotten him elected — but it isn’t doing anything to bring this country together.

Last month, Virginia became a blue state. The Democrat Senate candidate actually falsely branded his Republican rival a white supremacist (with a liberal ad actually suggesting he was genocidal), and he still won by a large margin. This sent a terrifying message that Democrats may hear for 2018 and 2020: branding Republicans as white supremacists during the Trump era — no matter how false it is — is an effective political tactic for turning out their base.

American politics has become an unhinged race to the bottom. Liberals myopically blaming Trump for everything wrong in the world (literally pointing to Trump as the cause of California fires…), and conservatives are also far from innocent.

Wisdom entails balancing hope and partisanship with reality. Politicians can and should make concrete promises — but these need to be realistic. Media outlets can and should release salacious stories, but they need to be grounded in what actually happened.

The more Trump promises the moon, the more liberals blame him for a lunar eclipse, and the more media outlets desperately twist Mueller revelations into fake news. Everyone involved needs to take a breath, re-examine their expectations, and adjust their promises accordingly.

When everyone engages in hyperbole, a little bit of restraint goes a long way.