But even as the White House wings it on impeachment, the president seems determined to drag the issue into the 2020 campaign. A chunk of his campaign-kickoff speech in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday night was spent proclaiming, erroneously, that he’d been cleared of any wrongdoing by Mueller, whose report would be the foundation of any impeachment inquiry. Trump has privately been telling friends much the same thing, though that’s, of course, a self-serving interpretation. In a rare public appearance last month, Mueller made clear that, had he concluded Trump committed no crime, he would have said as much. “How can you impeach me? I’m doing a great job,” Trump is wont to say, according to one of his confidants.
Impeachment would be a live issue on the campaign trail these days even if Trump were able to leave it alone. In a meeting with Atlantic editors and reporters yesterday, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who is running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, cited an episode last month when Trump abruptly walked out of a White House meeting with congressional Democrats, refusing to talk with them about the nation’s infrastructure so long as oversight committees investigated his dealings. Trump’s behavior in that instance amounted to an abdication of his role, Weld said. “That’s what the impeachment clause was designed for,” Weld said. “Get rid of a rotten apple who is interfering with the proper functioning of the Constitution.”
“I think he’s a sick man,” Weld added at one point. “He’s very insecure.”
Read: Trump is governing by grievance
So far, Trump’s campaign seems to be off to a bumpy start as he settles on a defining message. Money is pouring out the door, with not much to show for it yet. Between the main campaign and affiliated pro-Trump political-action committees, about $100 million has been put toward winning a second term. Approximately $10 million of that has gone toward Trump campaign ads on Facebook and Google, according to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic communications agency. Yet Trump is trailing the Democratic front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, by an average of nearly nine points, according to a RealClearPolitics survey of polling data.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this month showed that 52 percent of registered voters are “very uncomfortable” with Trump’s candidacy, compared with just 23 percent who were “enthusiastic” about the president.
Trump is following the Democratic race closely. One White House official said that he likes to make fun of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s last name, pronouncing it Boot-edge-edge-edge. Trump has also mocked Buttigieg’s appearance, comparing him to Alfred E. Neuman, the Mad magazine mascot. I asked Buttigieg about the ridicule during his recent visit to The Atlantic offices. “I don’t care,” he said, adding, “It’s interesting strategically to note that he can’t quite seem to figure out what to do with me …”