From the standpoint of a politician, the problem with an independent investigator is often less the “investigator” than the “independent.” Congress investigates things all the time, stretching out or curtailing their poking around depending on who’s being investigated. If it’s, say, the likely Democratic nominee for president and Congress is controlled by Republicans, you get the Benghazi bonanza. If it’s a Republican Congress considering a Republican president who is alleged to have been the beneficiary of deliberate interference by Russians, the rush to investigate is slower. This prompts opponents of that president to call for an independent investigation, one less subject to the vagaries of politics. But you know who loves the vagaries of politics? Politicians.
We find ourselves now in a situation in which political opponents of the sitting Republican president have called repeatedly for an independent investigation into his presidency. A new poll from CNN-ORC suggests that Americans broadly agree with that idea; 65 percent — nearly two-thirds — said they thought a special prosecutor should be brought in.
Of course that varies by party, ideology and support in the last election. Democrats, liberals and non-Trump voters are all much more likely to believe a special prosecutor is warranted than are Republicans, conservatives and Trump voters.
And that, in a nutshell, is why a special prosecutor likely isn’t on the immediate horizon. Other data in the poll explains this more thoroughly.
First of all, we note that approval of President Trump exhibits the same splintered nature as above, but in the opposite direction. Republicans, conservatives and those who voted for him last year broadly approve of his job performance so far.
That’s important: How a president is viewed colors how Congress is viewed, and if there’s one thing politicians love more than the vagaries of politics, it’s getting reelected. If Trump is unpopular, that’s bad news for Republicans in 2018. But if he is fairly popular in the Republican base, that changes things, providing much more cover for Republicans on Capitol Hill.
In fact, we can see this at work. Congress is broadly much less popular than Trump, which is like saying that eating bugs is broadly less popular than eating liver and onions.
But since the middle of the primaries last year, Americans’ perceptions of Congress have ticked upward — especially among Republicans and conservatives.
This appears to be in part because Republicans in Congress are going along with Trump. Republicans have had more confidence in Trump than those on the Hill for some time; now that Republicans in Congress are embracing Trump, it appears to be helping their poll numbers.
Put another way, Republican voters like Trump better than Congress, and their support for Congress correlates to how much Congress likes Trump. If you’re a member of Congress looking ahead two years, you tend to notice things like that.
The risk, of course, is that the Trump-Russia problem will metastasize and Congress will be in the unhappy position of not having moved quickly to address it. For now, though, that risk is offset somewhat by the fact that the Republican base — and voters who backed Trump — simply don’t believe the story is an issue.
How likely is it that the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to intervene on Trump’s behalf is accurate? Overall, 70 percent of Americans said it was extremely, very or somewhat likely. Among Republicans? Less than half.
How concerned are people about the question of Trump staffers possibly colluding with that interference? Even lower: half of Americans, and less than 20 percent of Republicans.
The question CNN asked about the special prosecutor was actually posed as a choice: Should there be a special prosecutor, or did people trust Congress to investigate itself?
A majority of Republicans, conservatives and Trump voters thought Congress could handle the job.
If you’re a Republican member of Congress being asked to appoint a special prosecutor — something that you probably didn’t want to do anyway, given the lack of control that results — this poll should make you feel much more at ease. Your base supports the president, likes you more as you ally with Trump and is less likely to think that there’s any Огонь beneath all that дым.
These things can and do change. But this poll explains why, so far, they haven’t.