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Will Trump use war as a smokescreen to fire Mueller?

At Raw Story today, Washington-based journalist and author Jefferson Morley makes a compelling case that Donald Trump will attempt to fire Robert Mueller at the completion of a six-part strategy that’s currently unfolding before our eyes.

Morley’s article is worth reading in its entirety, but the steps — the first four of which have essentially been completed — are are follows:

Phase 1: Trash Mueller’s reputation among Republicans.

Phase 2: Unify Republican media around scandals about Hillary Clinton.

Phase 3: Link the Clinton scandals to Mueller and export the story to more mainstream news outlets.

Phase 4: Establish the expectation that the Russian investigation will be wrapped up soon.

Phase 5: Wait for a moment of strength.

Phase 6: Find a Justice Department official willing to fire Mueller.

If Morley is right, we’re at the cusp of phase 5, which requires Trump to boost his political capital enough to contain the backlash that would result from ending Mueller’s probe.

Morley argues that pushing tax reform through might give him the capital he needs, but it’s hard to believe the situation is quite that dire. First of all, the GOP’s tax-reform plan is deeply unpopular, and since it’s fundamentally a scam designed to stuff more gaudy baubles into the impeccably tailored Underoos of a vanishingly small handful of über-wealthy trust fund brats, it’s not likely to get any more popular than it is. It’s also unlikely to buoy the economy — which is already so superheated that the Fed is actively taking steps to keep its growth in check, and whose long-term health depends on greater income equality, not less.

So what could give Trump the juice he needs to stop Mueller in his tracks?

War, of course.

Trump may be dumber than a bag of methane, but he speaks Moron fluently — and he knows that his people crave stupid distractions. And if the War on Christmas doesn’t do the trick, war with North Korea or Iran just might.

This is not a huge leap. First of all, he’s been saber-rattling and inciting our enemies from the very beginning. At times — like when he called Kim Jong Un “short and fat” on Twitter — he sounds like he’s directly inviting aggression. And as we speak, he appears to be doing all he can to abrogate the Iran nuclear deal, which his own top advisers have told him is working exactly as intended. Without that agreement, the U.S. will have exactly two options: allow Iran to develop a nuke or launch another Middle East war.

Unfortunately, Trump knows just enough history to be dangerous. His approval rating has been underwater since Day 15 of his presidency, and has been in the 30s since May, but even he knows how much a successful, short-term military campaign could move the needle in his favor. George Bush Sr.’s approval rating shot up 30 points, to 89 percent, after Desert Storm, and his son’s rating climbed to 90 percent after 9/11.

Stir in Trump’s dangerous impulsivity, his Planck-length-deep understanding of geopolitics, his obvious disdain for diplomacy, and his desperate need to do something — anything — to end the Mueller probe (does anyone at this point sincerely believe Mueller will find nothing that implicates Trump directly?), and you have a powder keg just waiting for a power-drunk dunce to stumble over to it with a box of matches.

Remember how George W. Bush’s people tried to shame anyone who opposed him by claiming it was unpatriotic to criticize a president during a time of war? Knowing what we know about Trump, he’ll borrow that tactic and then some.

Of course, this strategy could backfire big-league. History shows that war is at best a temporary salve for an unpopular president’s self-inflicted wounds. A war on the Korean peninsula could kill millions and invite a disastrous nuclear escalation, making the U.S. an international pariah for decades to come and almost instantly transforming Trump into one of history’s most notorious villains. And we all know how quickly a “short-term” Middle East campaign can devolve into chaos.

But when you’re drowning as Trump is now — and you see the sharks circling closer and closer — any lifeline is bound to look good to you. And when you’re a malignant narcissist, the well-being of millions, or even billions, of innocent people means precisely nothing.

Maybe this is all hysteria, and by God let’s hope it is. Maybe Trump’s advisers can be counted on to derail any talk of preemptive war, and maybe Congress will handcuff the president before he can act. But congressional Republicans have showed very little backbone during the Trump era, and our citizens have a pretty awful track record when it comes to opposing unnecessary, ultimately ruinous wars (until it’s far too late, that is). And in the end, Trump could simply steamroll his advisers, just as he did with his move to decertify the Iran nuclear deal.

As progressives, we’re already prepared to march in the streets if Trump fires Mueller. If war seems inevitable — or even possible — we need to summon that same outrage, and quickly.

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