Here’s something that might surprise you. In the last few days, three separate surveys have been released showing that a majority (or near-majority) of Americans still think Donald Trump colluded with Russia. As you know, this does not square with the findings of the Mueller Report which were released (in part) over the weekend by Attorney General William Barr. The critical passage we are referring to is this:
“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? No conspiracy, no coordination, no collusion. End of story, right?
Wrong. For some reason, the probe has failed to change people’s minds even though the “investigation employed 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, issued 2,800 subpoenas, executed 500 search warrants, and took 2 years. And even though special counsel Robert Mueller is widely regarded as a first-rate prosecutor and a man of unshakable integrity. Even so, a large percentage of Americans still believe Trump is guilty. Go figure? Take a look at this clip from a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released on Tuesday:
“Democratic voters.. are split on the question of whether Mueller found evidence that Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia.” (“Poll: Nearly half still think Trump obstructed Russian probe”, Politico)
“Split”? How can they be split when Mueller said there was no collusion? Don’t they trust Mueller’s judgement?
Apparently not, because we see the same thing in the Reuters/Ipsos poll:
“Almost half the Americans surveyed in a new poll say they believe that President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, despite a summary of the special counsel’s investigation that said there was no evidence to support that finding.
A Reuters/Ipsos survey released early Wednesday found that 48 percent of respondents said they believe that the president “or someone from his campaign worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election,” (“Almost half in new poll still say Trump, Russia colluded, The Hill)
Different poll, same results. Then there’s CNN, “The most trusted name in news”. Check it out:
“Though President Donald Trump has claimed “complete and total exoneration” … the American public disagrees, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.
A majority (56%) says the President and his campaign have not been exonerated of collusion, but that what they’ve heard or read about the report shows collusion could not be proven. Fewer, 43%, say Trump and his team have been exonerated of collusion.” (“CNN Poll: Majority says Trump not exonerated of collusion after Barr’s summary”, CNN)
While the CNN stats are more damning than the other two polls, the wording is slightly different which might explain the results. CNN doesn’t ask whether Trump ‘colluded with Russia’ but whether Trump has been “exonerated of collusion.” There’s a big difference. What the interviewees appear to be saying is that, they believe that Trump is guilty even though Mueller failed to dig up enough evidence to convict. These stats suggest that many people don’t think the investigation was thorough enough to issue a final report or, perhaps, they simply don’t believe that a man should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Either way, Mueller’s conclusions have not changed many minds.
So what do these surveys tell us about ourselves?
Don’t they tell us that precious few minds are changed by the facts (or lack of evidence)? Don’t they tell us that most peoples’ ideological outlook shapes the way they see the world? Don’t they tell us that Trump Derangement Syndrome is not a minor affliction like a bad head cold, but a type of mental illness that clouds one’s judgment and eviscerates objectivity? It could be argued that the reason so many people still believe the Trump-collusion fiction is because their hatred for Trump is so all-consuming they refuse to abandon the mindbogglingly-ridiculous idea that the man is a Russian agent. But it could also be argued that the average “Joe” never had as much confidence in Mueller to begin with. That’s a fact that is normally shrugged off by the media but which popped up in a piece at USA Today just a week before the final report was released. Check it out:
“A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds that trust in Mueller has eroded and half of Americans agree with President Donald Trump’s contention that he has been the victim of a “witch hunt.”…
Fifty percent say they agree with Trump’s assertion that the special counsel’s investigation is a “witch hunt” and that he has been subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics…..
In the new poll, 33 percent view him (Mueller) favorably and 31 percent unfavorably. That net positive rating of 2 points is his narrowest to date. As recently as last October, he had a net positive rating of 17 points, 42 percent-25 percent.” (“Poll: Half of Americans say Trump is victim of a ‘witch hunt’ as trust in Mueller erodes”, USA Today)
Ahh, so Saint Robert is not so saintly after all. No surprise there. And while Trump’s public approval rating has hardly budged, (42% of voters approve of the job he is doing, while 55% disapprove) Mueller has been steadily losing ground. For example, only 28 percent of the people polled said they have “a lot of trust” that Mueller’s investigation will “be fair and accurate”, which is a new low. Bottom line: As the probe has dragged on, Mueller’s credibility has eroded significantly. Is that why he decided to terminate the investigation now, because it was losing its ability to hurt Trump? (More on this later)
All three polls show that people are evenly split on the issue of whether Trump tried to impede the investigation or not. The debate over obstruction is likely to go on for some time, but it is worth noting that AG Barr did not simply decide the issue willy-nilly. As Matt Taibbi points out in a recent article, Barr discussed the matter with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and “decided the report didn’t provide enough evidence to support a criminal charge in any of the “number of actions” committed by Trump that raised the specter of obstruction…
According to Taibbi: “Barr’s letter includes a telling detail from Mueller himself on this issue:
In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction…” (“Taibbi: As the Mueller Probe Ends, New Russiagate Myths Begin”, Rolling Stone)
In other words, Trump cannot be convicted of obstructing the investigation of a crime that he knew did not exist. That sounds reasonable to me but I can see where someone might dispute the point. What I find harder to understand is the impact the report is having on public opinion. According to The Hill: “Just 9 percent of respondents told Reuters/Ipsos that Barr’s summary on Mueller’s investigation had changed their minds.”
9%?? That might sound minuscule, but it’s actually much worse than that. This is from CNN:
“The 43% overall in the new poll saying the President has been exonerated is about the same as the 42% who said in a CNN poll earlier this year that Trump’s campaign did not collude with the Russian government to help get Trump elected.” (CNN)
Got that? So even though the Mueller report says no collusion, only 1% of the people have changed their minds on the matter. Wow.
Naturally, the split depends entirely on one’s own political ideology: “77% of Republicans say the President has been exonerated, while 80% of Democrats say he has not.”
Is this who we are? Do we only perceive reality through the distorted lens of our own subjective viewpoint?
That’s what these surveys seem to say. But what they also seem to suggest is that Mueller may not have ended his probe merely because he had exhausted all potential leads, but because his personal credibility had taken such a hit that the probe was no longer inflicting damage on Trump. Which was the original purpose, right?
If I am correct in assuming that the Mueller investigation was actually launched to deligitimize the Trump presidency (by suggesting he cheated his way into the Oval Office), and to provide a check on Trump’s campaign promise to normalize relations with Russia, then it’s easy to see why Mueller would decide to pull up stakes now. As trust in Mueller has evaporated and more people think that Trump is being unfairly treated, the probe has lost its power to turn public opinion against Trump. In other words, the investigation was no longer an effective stick for beating Trump which is why Mueller decided to throw in the towel and call it quits.