From MSNBC politics shows to town hall meetings across the country, the overarching issue for the Democratic Party’s base since Trump’s victory has been Russia, often suffocating attention for other issues. This fixation has persisted even though it has no chance to sink the Trump presidency unless it is proven that high levels of the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Kremlin to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election — a claim for which absolutely no evidence has thus far been presented.
The first problem here is obvious:
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) March 16, 2017
I can’t speak to MSNBC. But among both the Democratic base and Democratic public officials, the claim that the “overarching issue” since the election has been Russia strikes me as utterly absurd. Certainly, this particular cesspool of perfidious neoliberalism has been much more concerned with TrumpCare and the Muslim ban and other awful policy initiatives, and Jeff Sessions and other horrible cabinet appointments, than with Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign. (Hell, I even thought that the substantive policy effects of a Trump presidency were more important than such admittedly very important and not-at-all distracting issues like “Hillary Clinton hired a PUBLICIST!” before the election!) I think any reading of liberal media sources would find that we’re representative in that respect. (Vox created a special daily newsletter on health care, not Russia.) If townhalls have been more concerned with Russia than with health care, it’s been very well hidden by media reports.
There has, in short, been plenty of opposition against Trump from a variety of non-Russia angles, some of which has already been successful. This idea that Democrats are too obsessed with Russia to oppose Trump — and this isn’t the first time Glenn has claimed this — is a fiction. The Russia obsession is Glenn’s; most Democrats have had no problem being focused on the many awful things Trump is doing even if they also care about Russian influence on the election.
But there’s a more subtle bad argument here too. As Jeff Hauser observed on Twitter, he’s raising the bar beyond what’s actually necessary for investigations to be useful in at least two ways. First, whether the administration’s ties to Russia have a “chance to sink the Trump presidency” is not the important question — for that matter, stopping TrumpCare and the Muslim ban won’t sink the Trump presidency, as indeed nothing will unless a majority of Republicans want Trump gone. Politically, if the investigations make him less popular and make it harder for him to advance his agenda, that’s plenty good enough. (Christ, Republicans rode investigations of Hillary Clinton that turned up pretty much nothing on issues that were often of much less import straight to the White House.) And whether the “Trump campaign actively colluded with the Kremlin to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election” is far from the only relevant question. If Russia ratfucked the election, this is important even if it wasn’t done in active collusion with Trump. And the ties of various Trump officials to Russia are potentially important even if they didn’t involve active collusion to alter the results of the election.
In short, investigations into Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the 2016 election an its ties to the Trump administration are perfectly defensible substantively and they’re good politics. It would be bad if they were interfering with other forms of opposition to Trump, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that this is happening. The opposition to Trump can — and will have to — do many things at once.