Is Donald Trump changing perceptions about special counsel Robert Mueller?
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Donald Trump is like a stuck record. As the needle jumps again and again, the same lyric is repeated ad nauseam: the investigation into Russian interference in the US presidential election, and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign, is a "rigged" "witch hunt" with "13 angry Democrats", with absolutely no collusion, and it's the Democrats' fault anyway.
It's the new Donald Trump drinking game. Take a shot when he calls the Russia probe a witch hunt, drink two fingers of whiskey if he blames the Democrats. You will be lying wasted on the floor by the time he finishes his third tweet. And like most drinking games, it is leaving the participants feeling sick.
In his latest social media diatribe, the president tweeted: "Public opinion has turned strongly against the Rigged Witch Hunt and the “Special” Counsel because the public understands that there was no Collusion with Russia (so ridiculous), that the two FBI lovers were a fraud against our Nation & that the only Collusion was with the Dems!"
One shot, two shot, three shot, floor.
It wasn't always like this. In the early days of the Russia probe, Trump's lawyers generally co-operated with the special counsel Robert Mueller, according to New York Magazine. They also assured the president that the investigation would be over by Thanksgiving last year. Times, however, have changed. The Trump team engage in a combativeness that's "less a legal strategy than an attempt to paint Mueller as unreasonable, as part of a larger effort to discredit him before he concludes the investigation".
Is the constant undermining by Trump and his team an effective strategy? Most Americans believe that the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is a serious matter that ought to be investigated, but criticism after criticism by Trump to Mueller is taking its toll, according to a recent CNN poll. It found that the number of Americans who approve of how the special counsel is handling the probe has dropped from 48 per cent in March to 44 per cent in May, and now down to 41 per cent.
But no one is coming out of the investigation in a positive light. Mueller's favourable rating is just 34 per cent, but it is still higher than Trump's lawyer (and probe provocateur) Rudy Giuliani, who is viewed favourably by only 31 per cent of Americans. Only 29 per cent of Americans approve of how Trump is handling the investigation, and nearly seven out of 10 think he should testify under oath if the special counsel requests it.
Another poll, this time from Politico/Morning Consult, found that 36 per cent of registered voters have a negative view of Mueller. It is a big jump from last summer when only 23 per cent viewed him negatively. At a glance, it looks like Trump is winning the narrative about the Russia investigation, but as FiveThirtyEight explains, "shifting public opinion about Mueller doesn't necessarily indicate that people's minds are changing".
"A look at Mueller's favourability ratings over the past year shows that more and more people have an opinion about the special counsel. And as he's transitioned from being a relatively obscure bureaucrat to a fixture in the news, the number of people who dislike Mueller has certainly grown (particularly among Republicans), but most polls show that his support is expanding as well," FiveThirtyEight writes.
Public opinion is not necessarily shifting about Mueller - it's just that Americans are becoming more polarised about the special counsel, especially as they become more informed about the Russia investigation.
The Trump narrative about Mueller is repetitive, and it is growing wearisome - but is it really effective?