With the fallout still cresting inside and outside of Washington, DC, the results of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion probe have already started to reshape the territory upon which the 2020 presidential election will be fought. While the race was never going to be entirely about impeachment or simply being anti-Trump, there was always a running thread while the probe was still ongoing that the outcome could give Democrats a big advantage if the results revealed something nefarious.
In the end, Mueller found no connection between the Trump campaign and attempts by Russia to meddle in U.S. elections and found no actionable information for Democrats in Congress to use toward pushing an impeachment narrative.
Where Does This Leave 2020?
For Democrats, barely weeks into the campaign, it provides them a needed boost to get back to how they could win in 2020, which is by pushing the issues rather than scandal.
As this report from McClatchy explains, Democratic strategists see big openings in 2020 on issues that matter most, like health care and the economy:
“Our plan is going to continue to focus on the negative impact Trump’s policies have had on American families,” said Josh Schwerin, spokesman for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, a group that has pledged to spend millions of dollars opposing Trump’s re-election. “And that has always been our plan.”
Added Dan Sena, who served as executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last cycle, in a text message: “Democrats would be wise to continue to fight/campaign for the economic high ground, protecting access to affordable [prescriptions] and a larger vision for the country.”
Indeed, Democratic strategists have long said their party’s best message for next year’s election — absent a stunning revelation from the Mueller report — would focus on pocketbook issues like health care. Polls show voters care more about those subjects, and Democrats were able to use a message fixated on protections for pre-existing conditions to gain 40 seats in the House last year.
“Time to get to the hard work of winning the election,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama.
Health care is a vulnerable spot for President Trump and Republicans. Having failed to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a ObamaCare) and replace it with some kind of free-market health care law, the state of health insurance remains in shambles around the country.
Plans are expensive, deductibles are hight, and options are limited. Democrats usually win when it comes to opinion polls on this topic, and they have two years of Trump’s record to point to as proof that he couldn’t solve the problem.
In fact, as the story continues, Democratic PACs are already spending money on this line of attack:
Democrats have already started running ads targeting Trump’s re-election effort that focus on pocketbook issues. Priorities USA, which has vowed to spend $100 million opposing Trump in key states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, released a digital ad that says the president hasn’t delivered economic security for working-class families.
“The president has put my kids one medical emergency away from bankruptcy,” one person says during the ad.
Dems were never going to win 2020 on the basis of the Mueller report alone, but now that it’s largely off the table, the campaign will move back towards focusing on the issues.
Trump May Overplay His Mueller Hand
If Democrats are moving away from talk of Russia collusion, the President will likely spend the next two years of campaigning to remind voters how much time and effort was, in his opinion, wasted on this probe. As CNBC reports, Trump will be riding the Mueller report wave for the duration of the 2020 campaign:
President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign plans to keep talking about the conclusions reached by the former FBI director until November 2020, nearly 600 days away, a spokesperson for the campaign told CNBC on Monday.
“In addition to the President’s undeniable record of success for the American people, rest assured that you will be hearing about the Democrats’ collusion and obstruction lies and President Trump’s full vindication between now and Election Day,” Kayleigh McEnany, the campaign’s national press secretary, said in an email.
The announcement comes as the president makes a dramatic turnaround on his attitude toward the special counsel, whose investigation the president once called a “disgrace to our Nation.”
A victory lap is expected, but too many victory laps will easily start to look like the President is focusing too much on this issue and not paying enough attention to matters that more directly affect kitchen table issues, like health care.
The Trump voting base will eat it up, and continue to thrive off knocking Democrats at every opportunity for predictions about Robert Mueller’s findings, but what about moderate voters who want to see results and don’t care about partisan divisions or never-ending investigations?
Another NBC story says that Mueller’s probe coming to an end is basically a new beginning on Trump’s re-election campaign, providing it with renewed vigor and a new focus:
But even absent a foil in Democrats, the findings unburden Trump from a probe that has cast a dark shadow over virtually his entire presidency. That’s a major boon as he turns the corner to his re-election effort.
“This was a distraction for two years and the president was able to accomplish an ambitious agenda,” Republican National Committee co-chair Tommy Hicks Jr. said in a text exchange with NBC. “The American people will have an opportunity to vote on his track record, which speaks for itself.”
Running on a record is great for an incumbent – if the record is good. So far, Trump has racked up wins on the economy, and several other areas, but he has a lot unfinished as well.
Democrats will find those opportunities and run with them as evidence that the “negotiator-in-chief” couldn’t negotiate his way through Congress to build a border wall, for example. Or, perhaps more damning, couldn’t negotiate his way through a Congress controlled by Republicans from 2016 to 2018 and finish some kind of health care law.
While the Mueller probe coming to an uneventful end for Democrats means they will have to recalibrate their focus, it may be more a blessing than a curse if it forces the campaign back to issues rather than fears of Russian interference or foul play.