As the information trickles out that the Mueller report probably will not end the Trump administration, it is worth thinking about how the broader landscape has changed, and who might be the winners and losers.
Politically, the biggest loser is probably Joe Biden. The belief that he can run as the “safest,” most vetted Democrat against an ailing, politically destroyed Trump all of a sudden seems less relevant. It now seems more important that Biden has run for president several times before, and never done extremely well, in part because he has not been an entirely convincing campaigner. He’s never come close to winning the nomination. He is a candidate of the past, for better or worse, but the dominant mood may not be one of restoration. The Mueller report makes it clear that we really are in a post-Obama era, and that even Trump critics need to be thinking about what comes next rather than looking to the past.
Which candidates then are helped the most? Most likely that would be the dynamic or potentially dynamic, relatively centrist Democrats, and that includes Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg (dynamic in a Mister Rogers sort of way), and Kamala Harris. I don’t see the candidates further to the left getting a boost from this development. Many Democrats might have been tempted to think: “Trump is so sure to lose, this is our chance to get a real radical in.” That now seems like a less convincing chain of reasoning.
There is another reason why Beto and Buttigieg might benefit, and that has to do with the risks from not so securely vetted candidates. It now seems they can survive in office, even if they partially screw up, as long as they don’t commit too many obviously treasonous crimes.
On the Congressional side, Nancy Pelosi looks wise for having talked down impeachment fervor in advance. Her political capital ought to go up and it probably will.
Many Democratic Congresspeople are better off too. Had the report levied stronger charges against Trump, they would have faced pressures from their base to impeach, even though impeachment might not have played well with independent and centrist voters. It is now likely those charges have been defused. Policy wonks may come back into fashion again, at least relative to where things stood a month or two ago.
Within the Republican Party, the Never Trumpers lost further ground, and in any case the momentum has been turning against them. Mike Pence has kept whatever political future he had, and he will not seem unacceptable as a president, due to moral taint, if say Trump later has to step down because of illness.
The media comes up as one of the biggest losers. While Matt Taibbi’s recent critical account is exaggerated, the mainstream media did talk up the Russia collusion story for two years plus, and now it seems overdone. After the media botched the “Hillary’s emails” story, there was plenty of talk of “never again.” It now seems that all along a new false set of stories was being created, albeit in a different direction. That will be perceived as a significant loss of media credibility, even if you think there is a more finely grained exculpatory story involving accountability some highly suspicious circumstances.
The bigger negative effect may be on media profitability. Trump- and Russia-related stories often have done very well for getting clicks, and indeed the dramatic stakes with those issues have been very, very high. But now it is easy to see the American public losing a lot of its interest in this line of inquiry. The line of “Trump is still corrupt and New York state now will get at him,” while quite possibly correct, isn’t nearly as big of a draw.
Among intellectuals, Glenn Greenwald has been insisting throughout that the Russia collusion story was phony. Whether or not his extreme skepticism was entirely correct, he is due to rise in status. Ross Douthat of The New York Times also had been suggesting that the Russia collusion angle may not pan out and some of his columns now seem pretty wise. John Brennan loses big time.
Oh, and another beneficiary is Steve Moore, Trump’s most recent nominee to the Federal Reserve Board. He has come in for a great deal of critical commentary, but at this point Republican Senators are less likely to cross a jubilant, resurgent Trump on the matter of a single nomination, and not one very much in the public eye.
The biggest winner of course is the United States of America. It seems, after all, that we did not have a president, or even presidential staff, who colluded with the Russians. Maybe you wanted Trump to go down on this one, but that is most of all big reason to celebrate.