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Can Donald Trump survive Michael Cohen’s decision to turn on him?

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Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and “fixer”, Michael Cohen, has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of fraud, among other crimes, and has implicated the president himself in wrongdoing. Speaking about payments made to porn actress Stormy Daniels and others, supposedly to keep them quiet about alleged affairs with the president, Cohen told a US judge: “I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election.” This would constitute a violation of campaign finance laws, and the implications for Trump are already the subject of speculation.

On the same day Cohen took his plea, Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was also convicted of federal crimes relating to his work with Russian and pro-Russian companies and governments.

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While we can’t know how these sudden twists will impact the current administration long term, they have suddenly injected a new potency into the miasma of scandal that hangs around the president himself. So what might happen to Trump next, and what can the history of presidential scandal tell us about his chances of weathering this storm?

Holding steady

Ever since Trump was elected, much has been made of his remarkably stubborn approval ratings. Despite the endless controversy and hugely negative news coverage, he has consistently retained the approval of somewhere around 40% of Americans. The reason is clear: while self-identified Democrats and independents strongly disapprove of Trump, Republicans still overwhelmingly support him, with his latest approval figures among those voters as high as 87%. With few exceptions, Republican politicians in Congress have also been relatively reluctant to speak out against the president for fear of retribution from their core voters.

On the face of it, this puts Trump well ahead of his most infamous scandal-ridden predecessor, Richard Nixon, whose approval ratings dropped to the mid-to-low 20s at the end of the Watergate scandal, However, in hindsight, many do not realise that Nixon too retained the support of Republican voters and politicians well into the scandal’s development.

Nixon’s voters and allies in Congress did not abandon him until Presidential Counsel John Dean testified against him to the Senate Watergate Committee, a shocking event followed by the release of audio tapes unambiguously implicating Nixon himself in a criminal cover up. The same effect could well be at work in Trump’s scandals today: depending on what specific evidence Cohen can offer up against Trump, the stubborn Republican support keeping Trump afloat could yet start to crumble.

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Coming apart

On the other hand, the US of the 1970s was far less politically polarised than today’s. In these hyper-partisan conditions, there’s an alternative scenario in which the president does not just survive, but thrives in the face of scandal.

This is what happened after President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky exploded into a humiliating attempt to impeach him. Thanks to a booming economy and a more polarised political culture, Clinton’s approval ratings actually rose at the height of the Lewinsky scandal. Democratic voters never abandoned him, and proved amenable to the administration’s portrayal of the scandal: a partisan prosecution for a moral lapse that had no bearing on the president’s performance. Enough independents and centrists were satisfied with America’s economic performance to agree.

With things going as they are, Trump may be able to preserve what standing he has in the same way. Today as in the late 1990s, the US economy is generally doing well; while real wages remain stagnant, unemployment is remarkably low and overall growth generally strong.

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Trump is also borrowing from the Clinton playbook in his efforts to paint his various scandals as the machinations of overzealous and corrupt political enemies, calling Robert Mueller’s investigation the “greatest witch hunt in American history”. Until now, this strategy has certainly kept base on side, although political independents and more centrist elements in his party don’t appear quite so enthusiastic.


The Conversation

So what now? Barring some truly unprecedented action in the Washington power structure itself, the ultimate arbiter of wrongdoing will be the American people. They will decide whether Trump’s scandals are legitimate, and whether they are important enough to warrant political punishment. And as team Trump will be well aware, the strongest signal they can send that these presidential scandals are unacceptable is to vote and hand Congress over to the Democrats in this November’s midterm elections. That would dial the up pressure on Trump to a higher level than before.

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By Neil Visalvanich, Lecturer in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



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GOP lawmaker cut the mic on black woman’s facts — but let white men spew ‘lunacy and lies’: report

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The Republican chair of a Tennessee legislative committee is under fire for cutting off the microphone while a woman of color was speaking -- but allowing white men to spew "lunacy."

"It took all of five minutes for Sen. Mike Bell, chairman of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, to prove Cherisse Scott’s point. Scott is founder and CEO of Sister Reach, a Memphis organization that fights for reproductive freedom and health for rural women and girls of color struggling with poverty," Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee explained.

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Here’s why Jeffrey Epstein surrounded himself with scientists

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The list of confidants and friends who were fêted by the late financier and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein included a number of prominent scientists. Among the eye-popping names that appeared on the list: the late cosmologist Stephen Hawking, Nobel-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann, evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, physicist Frank Wilczek, neurologist Oliver Sacks, and geneticist George M. Church.

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Trump just humiliated his own son with an absurd tweet about Greenland

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President Donald Trump confirmed multiple reports this weekend when he said that he does, indeed, hope to buy Greenland and make it part of the United States.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said that the country, which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, is “not for sale”: “Greenland belongs to Greenland.” Which should be the end of the story. Unfortunately, it’s not.

On Monday, Trump sent the following tweet, apparently trying to quell suspicions that the president just regards Greenland as another place to expand his business empire:

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