So, will the Big Bad Wolff blow the Trump White House down?
That’s the question still dominating America’s political and media landscape amid all the huffing and puffing fallout from Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s sensational, excoriating and hotly-disputed best-seller, with its depiction of a deranged POTUS and a dysfunctional, devious and deeply-divided West Wing.
Certainly Wolff boasts that his Steve Bannon-aided toxic tome will bring down the president. But Wolff is a man with a book to promote, a sizeable ego of his own and, like Trump himself, no stranger to hubris and hyperbole.
That said, the reality is that he may well have hammered another nail or two into the Trump presidential coffin, but the lid is still open.
For all the global media frenzy and fascination, the queues at bookshops across liberal America (but not so much in Trump’s heartland), Fire and Fury won’t by itself terminate Trump’s tenure. That remains far more likely to come via Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian Connection investigation, the voting power of the American people in November’s mid-term elections, the 2020 presidential election – if Trump is still around to run again – or the powerbrokers of the GOP establishment, if they decide the president is an electoral dead duck and back a more mainstream alternative.
Trump has certainly come out fighting since the book’s publication, and has even edged the early rounds. Steve Bannon seemed to throw in the towel, to an extent, with a climbdown in which he apologised to Trump, called him a ‘great man’ and claimed his explosive comments to Wolff branding the infamous Trump Tower meetings with Russians ‘treasonous’ and ‘unpatriotic’ was only aimed at (arrested) campaign manager Paul Manafort, and not the president’s son, Donald Jnr.
For GOP election strategists, Bannon’s apparent downfall marks a significant moment in the battle for the soul of the party, with its leaders on Capitol Hill, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan hoping his demise will prove the positive legacy of the book’s furore.
However, it remains a battle far from won. If the GOP establishment are perceived to be pulling Trump’s strings and manipulating him toward a more traditional, consensual presidency, then the far-right, the white nationalists, the evangelicals would instinctively be drawn back towards the Bannon wing, with its ‘America First’ and ‘Drain the Washington Swamp’ mantra.
So the GOP leadership publicly rallying round Trump should not be interpreted as a guaranteed ‘rapprochement’ between the party establishment and the narcissist, erratic POTUS. Many of them are increasingly convinced Trump represents more of an electoral liability than a benefit. But they also know that there is no alternative to throwing their weight behind him with those mid-term elections looming, and with Congress highly likely to fall to the Democrats and the Republicans’ grip on the Senate already hanging by a gossamer thread.
It is against this backdrop that Trump loyalists on Capitol Hill stepped up their efforts to either kill or discredit Mueller’s investigation ahead of the mid-terms, in the knowledge that losing either, or quite possibly both, Congressional Houses would open the door to their ultimate nightmare – impeachment – and the long-term damage that would do to the GOP.
The Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Charles Grassley, has called on the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into the now-famous (but strongly denied) ‘dossier’, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It is a move most legal experts – and Capitol Hill Democrats – condemn as a ‘political stunt’ designed to take the heat off the White House and the mounting evidence of ‘obstruction of justice’ offences, together with the impact of the Wolff book and the growing question marks over Trump’s mental fitness for office.
But it is also symptomatic of a steadily-building, multi-pronged strategy by Trump loyalists against Mueller and the future of his investigation. Developments that not only ring alarm bells among the Democrat leadership but act to discourage them from striking any of the bipartisan deals Trump badly needs to validate his presidency and boost the GOP’s prospects in November.