Death By A Thousand Cuts: The Russian Story Will Erode Trump’s Legitimacy

The new reporting by CNN and BuzzFeed has rocked the political world, with shocking revelations about the relationship between Trump and the Russian Federation. Although the most explosive accusation was that Trump had Russian prostitutes urinate on him in a bed that President Obama had slept in (I can’t believe I’m writing this) the most serious portions of the report remain the Russian efforts to compromise Trump.

Remember The Clinton Email Story — It’s All About Appearances

The “Trump is a Russian pawn” story has been slowly growing louder over the past several months. The problem for Trump is that he cannot disprove any of the allegations that he is compromised. Even if some of the information in the BuzzFeed report is inaccurate, there is no way for Trump to disprove it. Remember, you don’t actually have to be guilty (although I do believe Trump really is), all you need is the appearance of wrongdoing to be guilty in the court of public opinion.

Remember the Clinton email story. In the end, there was no real wrongdoing, and nothing illegal was uncovered. There was no real possibility Clinton was actually going to go to court, let alone prison. But the mere appearance of impropriety made people suspicious and put the campaign on the defensive. The nebulous accusations of wrongdoing could not be disproven, so they lingered, and ultimately the FBI Director used those suspicions to damage the campaign near the end.

In the same way, Trump has the appearance of being guilty of being connected to the Russian Federation. The BuzzFeed report is the latest evidence that the Russians hacked the DNC on Trump’s behalf, but it is just the latest in a long line of bombshells. There is the accusation that Trump’s surrogates had back channels with Russian government officials. The law firm representing Trump at this week’s news conference won Russia’s Law Firm of the year award last year. The FBI had applied for a warrant to monitor Trump’s campaign members because they were suspected of working with the Russian government. That’s just a short list, and more revelations are sure to come in the coming weeks and months ahead. Just like the Clinton email story, the fatal damage does not have to be immediate. But each cut damages Trump’s legitimacy and saps his political capital.

Political Capital Will Be Spent On Defense, Not Offense

Trump’s problem is that he has a massive cloud over his Presidency which casts doubt over the legitimacy of any of his actions. Traditionally, Presidents in their first hundred days set the agenda by using their Washington connections and political capital to set the agenda for their entire term. Instead, Trump will be facing massive resistance from the Democrats and even members of his own party on the Russian issue. Trump will be forced to spend significant political capital on defense instead of on offense. There is the threat of Congressional hearings, Federal investigations, and any new information uncovered is simply another slash to his legitimacy. While using his capital defending claims that he is a Russian stooge, Trump will be less able to carry out his agenda of racial warfare against marginalized peoples.

Trump Is Already Massively Unpopular

It is important to realize that Trump is already massively unpopular. A recent poll pegged his approval rating at a dismal 37 percent, making him the most unpopular incoming President in modern history. He is on thin ice. Scandals, further revelations about his connections to the Kremlin, and a Washington in deadlock over issues will drop his approval even lower. And now, the entire Republican Party is connected to Trump’s approval rating. Republicans in future elections will have their fate decided on whether the public approves of the job Trump is doing, and it is likely that he is going to become significantly less popular over the coming years.

Democrats, grassroots organizations, liberal bloggers — pretty much everyone who opposes Trump should be using the Russian story to their benefit. It doesn’t matter if everything in the BuzzFeed report is one hundred percent factual or not. What matters is appearances, and the majority of the information appears to be true. The report appears accurate and well-sourced enough for John McCain, a lifetime military man, to hand it over to the FBI Director for further inspection. The report has certainly scared Trump, who was forced to place his sycophants in his press conference for manufactured cheers and applause. Clearly, Trump is playing defense, and that is where the opposition should try to keep him. Just like how conservatives and white leftists used the “Clinton emails” story as a catch-all for corruption, the same should be done with Trump’s Russian connections, to the same result: the diminishment of his legitimacy, political capital, and ability to govern. The Russia story might not take Trump down today, tomorrow, next week, or next month. But it could stop him from achieving some of his most hideous policy proposals and further crash his approval ratings, both of which will adversely affect Republicans across the country in the years to come.