Trump’s First Term: Jury Is Out—Way Out

The president's performance is improving, but evidence of collusion with Putin is mounting

President Donald Trump. Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

“If they cut taxes, pass a massive infrastructure bill and avoid a ground war, he probably gets re-elected—just like most presidents do. Or, the investigations could find that he conspired with the Russians. That would lead to impeachment, imprisonment, and, at least technically, treason can be punished by death. So, re-election, the death penalty or something in-between.”

What was remarkable about this conversation at lunch the other day wasn’t just that we were talking about the potential outcomes facing President Donald Trump—and not the plot of a really bad tv show—but that the people at every other table in the restaurant were probably discussing the exact same thing. This last week alone provided evidence that Trump’s performance in office is improving, but evidence that his campaign conspired with Vladimir Putin is mounting. This could go a lot of different ways.

Signs pointing toward re-election:

  • Syria: Trump’s decision to send a message to Assad was bold, humane, and accomplished what Obama couldn’t manage to do. For a candidate whose message to the world was pretty much “screw you,” standing up for the Syrian people was an important step in re-affirming the United States’ role as a force for good.
  • Gorsuch: Whether or not you agree with his judicial views, Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court is an accomplishment for Trump, both substantively and politically. Trump named a highly qualified individual to the Court, and he also made conservative leaders and voters happy.
  • Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council: This isn’t a win so much as a first step toward avoiding more losses. Bannon was responsible for the immigration fiasco and is seen as Trump’s worst influence. Whether he remains in the White House is still an open question (Trump’s comments to The New York Post may indicate bad tidings for Bannon), but taking him off the NSC was a step in the right direction.
  • Meetings with President Xi Jinping: Given Trump’s rhetoric about China during the campaign, it would have been easy to see his meetings with President Xi go as badly as his interactions with the Germans, Australians, British and others. As far as we know, nothing bad happened and any progress on working with China to contain North Korea is extremely welcome.
  • The Freedom Caucus’ Move on Health Care: We saw, for the second time, that health reform is probably the most complicated issue of all, and it’s unlikely that any attempts to replace the ACA will actually pass. But the Freedom Caucus’ decision to try to fashion legislation that could win moderate votes is critical because it signals that they prefer accomplishments over obstruction. That could pave the way for tax reform and infrastructure spending.

Signs pointing toward impeachment and imprisonment:

  • More Manafort Shadiness: The New York Times reported on April 12 that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, received $13 million in loans from two Ukrainian businesses with ties to Trump the day after he left the Trump campaign. This only furthers the theory that Manafort was acting in concert with the Russians.
  • Trump Borrowed Money From Putin? The Telegraph reported on April 13 that Trump, according to former M16 chief Richard Dearlove, may have borrowed money from Russia during the 2008 financial crisis. If true, this would be really bad.
  • A Russian Agent Inside the Trump Campaign: The Washington Post reported on April 12 that the Justice Department obtained approval last summer to wiretap Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign. Receiving the warrant means there’s probable cause that Page was acting as a Russian agent. This doesn’t mean that anyone else on the Trump campaign knew about it, but if Page is arrested and flips, who knows what he’ll reveal?
  • Nunes Discredited, Again: On April 11, CNN reported that multiple lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, from both parties, who have reviewed classified documents saw no evidence that Obama officials wiretapped Trump, despite House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ claims to the contrary. This is the least important revelation but further discredits Trump’s camp on this issue.

So what do we make of all this, and what do we do?

It’s possible to be good and bad at the same time. Bill Clinton presided over a strong economy, kept us out of dumb wars, passed meaningful legislation on guns and welfare reform, and yet used his power to induce a 21-year old to perform fellatio on him in the Oval Office (had that happened in today’s culture and climate, Clinton almost certainly would have been impeached). Nixon created the EPA, normalized relations with China and was, by all accounts, a miserable human being whose base instincts led to his disgrace and resignation from office. And the list goes on.

We should all want Trump to do well, at least when it comes to foreign policy. When the president succeeds, we all benefit. Anyone rooting for his all-out failure at the expense of the nation is likely just a member of the opposite party wanting to gain power at any cost. At the same time, we should want the investigations to take their proper course. If Trump is guilty, he should be impeached and prosecuted. If he’s not, he should be cleared and the matter put to rest. But we need to know either way.

Hopefully, Trump keeps up the pace of the last week. And hopefully the Justice Department does the same. Where it all lands is anybody’s guess. The one thing we know for sure is it’ll keep our lunch conversations interesting.

Bradley Tusk is the founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings, the parent company of Tusk Strategies, Tusk Ventures, Kronos Archives, the Ivory Gaming Group and Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies. In 2009 he served as Mike Bloomberg’s campaign manager, guiding Mayor Bloomberg to a third term.

Trump’s First Term: Jury Is Out—Way Out