President Donald Trump’s first day in the White House, post-Mueller investigation, felt different out here beyond the Beltway. With big questions apparently answered, a sliver of breathing space opened up for us to consider other important matters of the nation. Could the same be true for Trump? Maybe, for example, he’ll discover he’s got more time to seek an effective trade deal with China that benefits Midwest consumers, farmers and factory workers.
In the Oval Office on Monday, Trump wasn’t quite ready to move on. He unleashed some trash talk — unsurprising for an emotional leader who often communicates via hyperbole and invective. “We can never let this happen to another president again,” he declared when asked about the investigation, citing “evil” and “treasonous” acts that harmed the country. “Those people will certainly be looked at.”
Well, no. They shouldn’t.
Trump’s comments were off the cuff and his targets were unspecific. He was gloating, and wrong on the facts. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe went by the book, protecting constitutional democracy by investigating Trump and his orbit in a responsible manner. According to Attorney General William Barr’s early assessment, Mueller did not establish that Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia. Did Trump obstruct justice? Mueller decided against reaching a legal conclusion. Democrats will continue to attack Trump, Republicans will defend him, same as before but minus the potential peril of legal action by Mueller that could have crippled his presidency.
During the 22 months of the special counsel’s work, Trump spent a lot of time defending himself and lashing out at others. He tweeted incessantly about the supposed collusion witch hunt. No one can assess the impact of the legal threat posed by Mueller as a distraction to Trump, but obsessions do come at a price. Since early in Trump’s presidency, we’ve written about all the work he might have accomplished if he’d been more disciplined, and less focused on picking fights with his perceived enemies. A point we’ve come back to: If Trump had allowed FBI Director James Comey to complete the Russia investigation instead of firing him, there would have been no need for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel.
Trump now has more room to operate — more time to focus on Americans’ crucial policy needs. On immigration, by moving past his singular focus on a wall. On a dangerous North Korea. On improved care for veterans. On fixes for struggling mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. On countless other issues.
But especially, if Chicagoans and other Midwesterners can get his ear, Trump should spend more time sealing trade deals with China and other nations. We understand pushing for better trade terms. We don’t though, understand tariffs. Millions of Americans — including many in the export-driven Midwest — will prosper if Trump now moves trade front and center.
Trump won’t change his personality or his aggressive style. His popularity is middling, and his ability to move beyond his base of supporters is unproven. He also faces continued legal risks and political threats; none of us knows what disclosures might lurk deep in the Mueller report. It hasn’t yet been released. Other investigations related to Trump’s activities loom. Also coming quickly into view: the 2020 campaign.
This is not a new Trump presidency. But it was a new day, and it would be good for the country if he seizes it — rather than squandering it on new hostilities.