The dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after Democrats recaptured control of the U.S. House in the midterms was at once both shocking and not at all surprising, like so many decisions made during this administration.

It wasn’t a surprise because President Trump had been publicly criticizing Sessions for months, not just over Sessions’ proper decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation but also over a wide variety of other matters. These criticisms ranged from the trivial, like mocking Sessions’ accent, to the more serious, like attacking Sessions over indictments of fellow Republicans.

For the past two years, it has become increasingly clear that Trump wanted a loyalist who happened to be an attorney as his AG; instead, he got an experienced Washington hand who wanted to preserve the independence of his agency. This turnabout came despite Sessions’ early support of Trump (he was the first U.S. senator to endorse him) and their nearly total agreement on immigration policy, Trump’s No. 1 issue.

Just as Trump soured on Jeff Sessions, liberals across the country came to regard the AG more favorably, and to be increasingly worried about his potential ouster.

When he was initially nominated for the post, he was widely seen as one of Trump’s most controversial Cabinet choices. Here in Maine, protesters decried Sen. Susan Collins for supporting him – she not only voted for his confirmation, but spoke glowingly about him to the press.

Collins’ support for his nomination was not because they agreed; if fact, they disagreed about the issues nearly as much as two people from the same party possibly could. Instead, it was because she knew that her friend and colleague would respect the institution and uphold the rule of law, despite their differing political views.

Eventually, many of the same people who initially protested him would come to appreciate that about Sessions; they probably should have listened to Susan Collins in the first place.

Sadly, Trump wasn’t one of them, so he ended up kicking Sessions to the curb. The decision itself wasn’t much of a surprise, but the timing was. It wasn’t a mystery why Trump waited until after the midterms to let Sessions go: Had he done it beforehand, Republicans might well have lost control of the U.S. Senate. What is a bit of a mystery is why Trump decided to make the announcement the day after the midterms instead of waiting longer – say, until the final tally in the U.S. Senate was determined, or even until after the new Congress took office.

The timing may simply be a political calculation, rather than part of any plot to curtail or shut down special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. During the campaign, talk about the Russia investigation seemed to die down as Democrats realized it wasn’t a political winner for them. This was confirmed by the exit polls on election night, which showed that voters’ views of the investigation were largely split along party lines. Democrats may have been worried that harping on the investigation would only help turn out Republican voters, realizing that their own base was already deeply motivated to show up this year.

Now, though, Democrats face a quandary.

Do they use their newfound majority status simply to stymie Trump at every possible turn, or do they search for issues where they can work with the administration? If they have any hope of defeating Trump in 2020, they have to not only nominate a sensible candidate, but they need to earn the support of voters who backed both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, enabling them to win states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. That would seem to speak toward the latter option, of finding some kind of common ground with the White House that might allow them to eke out a policy win of some kind in the next two years.

That may be exactly why Trump decided to fire Sessions right away after the elections: So he could push Democrats into full-scale resistance mode and draw attention away from any of their proposals.

If this is his plan, expect him to overreact to any investigations the House launches, block them at every possible turn (both legally and politically) and continue to talk up the threat of impeachment in an attempt to elevate the far left wing of the Democratic Party.

While that may thwart any hope Trump has of getting anything done in the next two years, it could serve him well in his quest for a second term.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel