Rarely has a world leader so quickly and easily turned a nuisance into a crisis.
Donald Trump did just that with his abrupt and poorly reasoned dismissal of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday.
Certainly Mr. Comey had few fans on either side of the aisle after clumsily injecting himself into the presidential election last year. Indeed, a parade of Democrats chastised him in recent months, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
But in his oddly timed firing of Comey, while an investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia is still ongoing, Mr. Trump has inadvertently opened up a new front in the war against him. And he has made it nearly impossible for his supporters to defend the firing of even a pariah such as Comey.
That’s a pretty neat little trick.
The official reason for Comey’s termination was termed “inexplicable” by conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer – and, at best, the reasoning seems contrived: that Comey mishandled the Clinton email scandal last summer.
Really? It took this long to figure that out?
By some news accounts, Mr. Trump was actually said to be livid at Comey for failing to publicly clear him in the Russia probe. If so, Trump has only added legitimacy to the investigation by lopping off its head.
Reaction by Democrats was predictably hysterical – with talk of a “cover-up,” though no crimes have even been cited, references to Watergate and calls for an independent prosecutor to look into the Trump camp’s alleged ties to Russia.
A special prosecutor appears all the more likely now. The president appears to have only made things worse for himself.
Mr. Trump could have – and should have – let the Russia inquiry take its natural course and, if he’s in the clear, let it blow over. During the pendency of the probe Comey was, for all intents and purposes, untouchable. Instead, with Comey’s firing Trump has only had the issue blow up in his face, and has ironically only put wind in the probe’s sails.
Comparisons to Watergate and the “Saturday Night Massacre” – in which President Nixon tried to forestall an investigation of him by seeking the ouster of its special prosecutor – are premature and, at this point, inapt. There’s not one shred of evidence the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians – and even Obama intelligence officials such as James Clapper have said so.
Still, firing a key official out of anger – if that’s what Trump did – would be very much Nixonian.
Even if there’s nothing to the Russia allegations, the president has carelessly given them new life. The future of the Trump presidency now feels at risk.
Likewise, over-the-top Democrats appear to be mortgaging the future of their party and betting everything on getting this president. But what happens if the Russia probe doesn’t turn up anything substantial? What will be left in the Democrat arsenal? How will they look, if not reckless and obsessed?
As this to-the-death cage match goes on in a Washington intent on cannibalizing itself, Americans must wonder: Where does this leave the rest of us?