President Trump could hardly contain his glee after Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report provided him with a “complete and total exoneration.” (It didn’t, although the immediate political victory surrounding the Barr summary could be described as such.) Around four in the morning on Tuesday, Trump expanded on his depiction of the press as the “enemy of the people,” lending the moniker to the entire “mainstream media” for the first time. And at a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans, Trump reportedly told the lawmakers that people love it when you attack the press.”
According to a report from the New York Times, the president’s aides are also feeling the victory glow. In the White House driveway on Monday, counselor Kellyanne Conway smiled with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders after returning from an appearance on Fox News. “We’re colluding,” Conway told reporters.
Conway also told the Times that “the same people who were wrong about the 2016 election were wrong again” and that “moving on might take a minute.”
On Monday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders posted a celebratory picture of Trump surrounded by his lawyers, before promptly deleting the post from Instagram. Also on Monday, Rudy Giuliani and the president’s campaign manager Brad Parscale drew a crowd to the Trump International Hotel, less than a mile from the White House. “We feel totally and completely vindicated,” Harlan Hill, a campaign advisory board member who took a picture with Giuliani, told the Times. “The mood from the pundit class to friends of mine that work in the White House is over-the-moon ecstasy.”
On Twitter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared a March Madness bracket filled with journalists — including New York’s Jonathan Chait — who had pursued the Mueller report for what it was: an inquiry into whether or not the sitting president of the United States conspired with a foreign power to win an election.
Though the winning feeling is currently surging, it’s unclear how long it could last. From one angle, it will linger as long as Trump is president, as it’s clear he intends to take the “no collusion” slogan into the 2020 election. From another, the political — if not legal — vindication of the Mueller report summary hasn’t changed Trump’s approval ratings, and Democratic messaging in the primary has not depended upon the Russia investigation to inspire early donors. Then there’s the worry that Trump will overreach on his victory lap, a concern that Joe Lockhart, President Clinton’s press secretary at the time of his impeachment, expressed to the Times. Lockhart compared the current messaging from the White House to the historically embarrassing “Mission Accomplished” banner George Bush unfurled two months after invading Iraq for the second time: “Right now it can only go one way, which is bad for them.”