President Trump’s strategy to fight off impeachment is rapidly coming into view. It looks exactly like what we have come to expect from him — pugnacious and partisan — and it could work.
The attacks on Biden serve two purposes. The first is obvious: Push a story line that competes with impeachment. Democrats will dismiss this, but the story will resonate with Republicans who already are predisposed to believe the other side is up to no good. Conservative media are already circulating a recent opinion piece from conservative columnist John Solomon in the Hill in which he contends there’s more to the Biden-Ukraine story than is currently believed. If something new is uncovered, then the pressure on the Republican-led Senate to investigate Hunter Biden will grow, distracting from the Democrats’ impeachment narrative.
Attacking the Democrats as sore losers will also resonate. The Trump reelection campaign announced last week it would spend $10 million on an ad claiming the Democrats are trying to steal the 2020 election through impeachment. People in the “resistance” contend they are simply working to remove someone they believe is corrupt and incompetent, but Republican loyalists believe these folk simply want to undo the last election. This message will resonate with the base and, absent further damaging facts, likely keep the bulk of Republican voters behind their man.
Trump is also focusing on his less-partisan backers with a more populist approach, arguing on Twitter on Saturday that his opponents “are trying to stop me, because I am fighting for you.” In saying this, Trump is appealing to the people who crossed party lines to vote for someone who they believed had their backs. A video pushing this line has already been viewed more than 7 million times. Trump’s opponents will roll their eyes, but this argument is likely to resonate with people who are already happily on the Trump train.
This strategy is well-designed to stop the bleeding in public support. So long as Trump’s voters remain loyal, Republicans in the House and Senate will likely stay in line no matter what they personally believe. Once that base is secured, Trump can start to pivot off of any new revelations about Biden or the Democratic efforts to punch holes in their story and take the attack to them.
The Democratic decision to conduct much of their investigation behind closed doors could give Trump much more room to push his narrative. It’s hard to keep up press coverage without new facts to push it. But House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has decided to conduct depositions of key witnesses rather than push them to testify in public. This means that unless those depositions are leaked, there won’t be much news coming out from the pro-impeachment forces. The president, on the other hand, is tweeting daily and will likely try to dominate the news cycle with regular, anti-impeachment pronouncements. The average person not obsessed with the news will likely hear more of Trump’s side of the story this week than they did last, which could begin to reverse public sentiment.
That battle over public sentiment is the most important one to watch over the coming months. No one reasonably expects that 20 Republicans in the Senate will join the 47 Democrats to remove Trump from office. Instead, this is a fight to shape the contours of the 2020 election. If Democrats are successful, they will have so tarnished Trump that they will have locked in the 52 percent of Americans who have consistently said they disapprove of his tenure in office. If they stumble or if Trump successfully characterizes their efforts as a partisan drive for power, then some in that anti-Trump coalition could rethink their stance. It won’t take much movement to give Trump an electoral college majority even if he still loses the popular vote.
Trump is many things, but he is not a quitter. He will fight back with his characteristic swagger, bravado and viciousness. Democrats who think they finally have him on the ropes may yet find that he will simply batter and bludgeon his way out of their trap, living to fight yet another round in this interminable cage match to the political death.