In what has been billed as the President’s worse day in office, two separate court cases, coincidentally concluding within minutes on the same day, found two former staffers guilty of serious crimes.
First up was Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chief, who was found guilty of eight counts of fraud and now faces up to 80 years in prison. Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on a further 10 counts. The offences pre-date Manafort’s service with the Trump team and apparently have nothing to do with allegations that Trump colluded with the Russians to swing the 2016 election, which remain unproven.
What happened next was a narrative twist that would have been dismissed as preposterous and far-fetched by the scriptwriters of the cheesiest political thriller.
Minutes later in a separate courthouse Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to five counts of paying over £200,000 in hush money to two women – a porn star and a former Playboy model. This is potentially the far more serious of the two cases as Cohen has admitted breaking campaign finance rules and claims he did so at Trump’s behest.
There is nothing in US law that prevents a candidate spending his own money, but if it can be proven that the cash came from campaign funds, rather than Trump’s personal wealth, he would be in serious trouble.
Already there are moves afoot in the US to impeach the president – a process under which Congress would try Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanours” because a sitting president cannot be prosecuted in the normal courts.
Trump’s enemies – and there are plenty of them – are getting very excited at this prospect, but it is worth noting that the bar is set very high to impeach a president.
Firstly, it requires a majority in the House of Representatives and then a two-thirds majority in the upper house, the Senate. Given that the Republicans control both houses, this would need either a large-scale rebellion within Trump’s own party, or massive gains by Democrats in the mid-term elections in November. At the moment you would have to say impeachment is unlikely in the near future. Does any of this really matter? Trump’s approval ratings have proved remarkably resilient in spite of the massively negative press coverage.
A poll taken before the latest court cases showed that 24 per cent of those surveyed “strongly” approved of the President and a further 24 per cent “somewhat” approved of him. His approval ratings among Republicans are a whopping 86 per cent.
One pollster described the American electorate as two warring camps – for and against Trump – who have already made up their minds and won’t be swayed by passing events.
In some ways this reminds me of Jeremy Corbyn’s support in the UK. Hardly a day passes without a new revelation of Corbyn’s close connections with anti-Semites and racist killers – he has never met a terrorist he didn’t like. Yet Labour remain neck and neck with the Conservatives in the polls. The “absolute boy” could be revealed as an active member of the Ku Klux Klan and it wouldn’t matter one bit to the Corbyn cultists.
And there remains in the US a massive disconnect between the preoccupations of the elite media and the concerns of ordinary voters. For example mainstream news organisations are obsessed with the Russian collusion story, which has produced little evidence despite months of investigations.
But the topic hardly registers among the concerns of ordinary citizens, who are far more likely to rate jobs and immigration as priorities.
And here I believe is the key element in Trump’s continued survival. His tax cuts appear to have put rocket boosters under the US economy that grew by an astonishing 4.1 per cent in the second quarter of this year – a rate of growth that the moribund economies of the EU can only look on in envy.
I suspect many Americans dislike Trump’s personality but they will continue to give him their support as long as he delivers a successful economy
In short they may disapprove of him as a man, but approve of his policies that bring jobs and prosperity.