Donald Trump has solved his problem over his weak impeachment defense, fusing it with an audacious reelection pitch that makes a virtue of the rule-breaking character that got him into trouble.
The President is heaping pressure on Republicans to buy a factually dubious but bold message: Not only did he not abuse power in Ukraine but his conduct is that of a tough guy President beset by corrupt elites and boosting the US abroad.
The narrative effectively folds Trump’s apparent transgression into an extension of the effective 2016 campaign pitch that only a rule breaker can crush the power of the Washington swamp. It’s a risky message from a President who’s counting on his political instincts that tell him swing state voters aren’t convinced by Democrats’ impeachment pitch – and one whose presidency has been dripping in allegations of corruption, self-dealing and infringing the limits of presidential power.
The defense shone through a new Trump campaign ad previewed Wednesday night and in arguments by GOP lawmakers as the Democratic House held its historic preliminary impeachment vote tailored to fire up the President’s base supporters.
According to a poll released Friday by The Washington Post and ABC News, Americans are split over their support for impeaching and removing Trump – with 49% saying they support impeachment and removal.
And in an interview with The Washington Examiner, Trump felt so confident that he pitched reading the transcript of his controversial call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a “fireside chat on live television.”
Oddly, despite the House majority signaling it had the numbers to impeach the President, Thursday was one of his better days in the dramatic month-long impeachment spectacle.
That reflects how badly things have been going so far. But there did at last seem to be some coherence and logic to Trump’s defense – perhaps partly because he was largely out of sight and could not step all over his own message.
And for once, a key witness delivered testimony that was not universally damaging to the President. Two court hearings showed that wrangles over some key witnesses may confound Democratic efforts to get them on the record soon. No Republicans defected in the House impeachment vote. And the GOP now has new targets – a group of Democratic House members who won Trump districts last year but who voted to begin a process designed to throw him out of office.
One of Trump’s primary reelection talking points continues to be the economy.
“Wow, a blowout JOBS number just out, adjusted for revisions and the General Motors strike, 303,000. This is far greater than expectations. USA ROCKS!” he tweeted Friday of a better-than-expected jobs report.
The US economy added 128,000 jobs in October, though the unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.6% and US manufacturing jobs fell 36,000 jobs last month, impacted by the GM strike.
Trump true to aggressive instincts in impeachment fight
Republicans have struggled to come up with an effective impeachment defense through weeks of damaging revelations about him pressuring on Ukraine for a political payoff.
That’s partly because the evidence of the case itself is so damning.
Multiple witnesses have now testified that Trump withheld military aid to the former Soviet state that is in a state of war with Russia, in a bid to coerce it into opening an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
The move appears to show a clear abuse of power – a President using his authority to set foreign policy not to advance the national interest but his own political prospects.
One possible defense would be for Trump to show contrition – a move that would allow Republicans in a Senate trial to bemoan the behavior but argue it does not meet the impeachment test.
But admitting any wrongdoing goes against everything Trump believes. So he and his White House have settled on a position of denying the clear fact of witness testimony and the evidence of a rough transcript of his call with Ukraine’s President.
“Anybody who reads the transcript understands it was a perfect phone call with the Ukrainian President,” Trump told Britain’s LBC Radio on Thursday in an interview.
“The Democrats are desperate, they are desperate they had nothing. They have got nothing going,” Trump said.
’No Mr. Nice guy’
Trump’s campaign ad, first aired during the World Series on Wednesday, takes on the notion of his unchained rule breaking behavior head on – making a potential liability in the impeachment case into a quality to help him in the election.
The ad accused Democrats of focusing on impeachment and “phony” investigations and not issues Americans care about.