It may satisfy President Trump’s insatiable appetite for drama to pretend that the outrage he has provoked by firing James Comey is indicative of nothing more noble than hypocrisy. But, dramatic satisfaction notwithstanding, the president is incorrect in his assessment. Without question, many in America are overreacting wildly to what is the first, rather than the second step, in this story. But that does not mean there is no cause for discomfort. While it remains a possibility that Trump has done this out of pernicious self-interest, it remains possible for an honest observer both to loathe James Comey and to think that the timing of his termination stinks. In my view, conservatives who fail to acknowledge that are withholding the necessary skepticism.
That said, how this will play out really is anyone’s guess. And frankly, I’m not sure that from a political perspective Trump’s post hoc play is a bad one. How, after all, is the public supposed to react when both Comey’s behavior in office and his firing are cast as a “constitutional crisis”? How should more casual viewers process the fact that the Paul Krugmans of the world have charged both that “Comey and Putin installed a crazy, vindictive can’t-handle-the-truth person in the White House” and that that can’t-handle-the-truth person is “a legitimacy crisis waiting to happen” for getting rid of his supposed abettor? James Comey is disliked by two-thirds of Americans, and his approval rating among Democrats is at a remarkably low 12 percent. Can it be any surprise that the public is confused as to what it is supposed to believe?
Take, by way of example, this clip from last night’s Late Show in which the audience needs to be told that Comey’s firing is a Bad Thing.
I bring this up not to dismiss the possibility that there is something insidious going on here, but rather to suggest that, absent a bombshell revelation that puts it into clear context, this story is likely to remain extremely confused. In the last year, James Comey has been seen by both sides as both a model public servant and a partisan hack; as a check and as a conspirator; as the hero and as the villain. Atop all of what is important and true, it may well be the case that a single emotion prevails through the discussion of his departure: relief.