US Politics: Trump betting markets are underestimating Mueller
Despite the Russia investigation threatening to spiral out of Donald Trump's control, Betfair punters now expect him to survive at least a full-term. Paul Krishnamurty remains very sceptical...
"A focused, unstoppable legal process is making rapid progress. Those that dismissed TrumpRussia as a hoax have never looked less serious. The predictions of those journalists that regarded it as the story of the century, even before the 2016 election, have been repeatedly vindicated. It absolutely retains the potential to remove this president from office."
Market sentiment towards Donald Trump is shifting significantly and, perhaps more pertinently, suddenly seems impervious to the relentless scandal and drama associated with this president.
Back at the start of November, following indictments against four members of the Trump campaign, our market regarding whether or not he serves a full term in office spiked. At one stage he was rated 56% likely to leave early and 34% to go during 2018. Ever since, all market signals have been pro-Trump.
Despite having four days to digest the latest bombshell developments in the Russia investigation, those same markets have barely moved. At odds of [1.52], Trump is now rated 65% likely to survive a full-term and a mere [8.8] (11%) chance to go before the end of this year. Likewise his odds to be the 2020 Republican Nominee and Next President have both shortened, to [1.6] and [3.15] respectively.
Market trends defy the news cycle
Considering how that investigation is proceeding and everything else to happen in Trumpworld during that period, that trend sounds remarkable. In seven weeks since I last wrote on the subject, we've had the 'Shit-hole' furore, a government shutdown, Rob Porter's dismissal, Stormy Daniels and another paid-off, hushed-up affair, this time with Playboy model Karen Macdougal. Dozens of senior officials still cannot get a security clearance.
Any one of those scandals would have destabilised past presidencies. Then on Friday, Robert Mueller's investigation took a significant turn, naming 13 Russian individuals and 30 companies in a 37-page indictment that laid bare how Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Seizing upon the statement that this particular indictment was targeted specifically against Russians, rather than Americans who participated unknowingly, Trump immediately claimed to be vindicated and has been tweeting prolifically that it proves there was 'No Collusion'. Even when one might expect a presidential response to the Florida school shootings, Trump used it to attack the FBI.
Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!? Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
It does no such thing - that lack of blame towards American conspirators applies only to this specific indictment. In establishing that a crime has been committed against the USA, it is now much harder to kill the investigation and any Americans who are subsequently revealed to have colluded with that crime are an accessory. Of those four earlier indictments, three have pleaded guilty and are co-operating. Far from this clearing Team Trump, there is much more to come and Mueller is much harder to sack.
Mueller's investigation is secure and ever expanding
We will likely hear more about the DNC hack, distribution of that material and targeting of voters. As I wrote last year, the data company Cambridge Analytica and Wikileaks will be at the heart of it. Obstruction of justice, with regards to Trump sacking FBI chief James Comey, is reportedly still on Mueller's radar.
So too, judging by the team he is assembling, is money laundering. Steve Bannon, who is yet to retract his comments on that subject and the Trump Tower meeting with Russians in 'Fire and Fury', was interviewed for over 20 hours. The infamous 'Steele dossier' has yet to be debunked and the authors stand firmly behind it.
Why then, with so many existential threats, are markets moving in Trump's favour? One obvious and unarguable explanation is that there remains absolutely no sign that Republicans are prepared to impeach their own president. Nor, as the recent memo farce illustrated, are the Congressional committees they control going to co-operate with investigations.
Mid-term elections could be a gamechanger
While that indeed makes 2018 a longshot - reliant on a sudden resignation - the dynamics will change if the Democrats win the House in November. They're currently rated [1.81] (56%) favourites to do so. With control of the committees, those investigations and revelations will gather speed. If there is to be a tipping point, 2019 could provide it.
That seems a long way off right now, though. There was already a sense that the investigation was about to either escalate or be killed stone dead. With the former now seeming inevitable, Trump's weekend tweetstorms smacked of a cornered man, panicked by the realisation that his options were running out, rather than a very stable genius.
Now that Adam Schiff is starting to blame President Obama for Russian meddling in the election, he is probably doing so as yet another excuse that the Democrats, lead by their fearless leader, Crooked Hillary Clinton, lost the 2016 election. But wasn't I a great candidate?? Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
Without being able to sack or neuter Mueller, it's hard to see how Trump can avoid constant, ongoing damage. Can he realistically avoid an interview with Mueller now, as his lawyers want? Or continue to dodge imposing sanctions on Russia - as demanded by Congress, or even plan security measures to protect November's elections?
The next spike could be the much speculated indictment of Jared Kushner. In other news, the first son-in-law has been alleged to be a soft intelligence target for China, and his companies have been subpoenaed by the IRS. The family finances are about to be scrutinised like never before.
Meanwhile the rest of the show will go on. Stormy Daniels is ready to talk. Comey's book is due for an April release. The safest bet is that, within 24 hours, another Trump shocker will be dominating headlines and could perversely help his cause. Trump's ability to saturate the media or to distract is beyond dispute.
Indeed, another reason why betting sentiment is shifting is that punters are becoming immune to the madness - or at least have decided that US voters and lawmakers are. To some extent, that is persuasive. Trump's personal life, racism or sexism never hurts with his base. A sex or political scandal won't bring him down. Mueller, however, is a threat of a completely different order.
A focused, unstoppable legal process is making rapid progress. Those that dismissed TrumpRussia as a hoax have never looked less serious. The predictions of those journalists that regarded it as the story of the century, even before the 2016 election, have been repeatedly vindicated. It absolutely retains the potential to remove this president from office.