Trash-talking Trump aims to weaponize impeachment

Source: Politico | June 11, 2019 | Darren Samuelsohn

Since Trump and his team have no say in whether Democrats launch impeachment proceedings, they’re trying instead to bend the chatter around the issue to their advantage.

President Donald Trump has no direct control over his impeachment, but that’s not stopping him from trying to weaponize the process.

It’s shaping up to be a classic Trump scheme — counterattack, demean the opposition, predict absolute victory, reduce the argument to a few talking points, and never, ever, cede ground. And it’s a messaging strategy born of necessity. Since Trump and his team have no say in whether Democrats launch impeachment proceedings, they’re trying instead to bend the chatter around the issue to their advantage, knowing the topic will dominate the national conversation as the 2020 election ramps up.

A dozen people around Trump said the approach is rooted in recent history and the president’s own love for a fight. Trump has discussed with aides how a cascading series of investigations helped propel President Bill Clinton to a second term in 1996 and then led to historic setbacks for House Republican in the 1998 midterms when they ran on a platform to impeach the Democratic president. Trump himself is also telling people that anything House Democrats write into impeachment articles against him will fall short of the loosely defined “high crimes and misdemeanors” threshold spelled out in the Constitution, making him confident of an acquittal in the GOP-led Senate.

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The fight over Trump’s potential removal has become something of a fixation for the president. Even though he branded impeachment a “dirty, filthy, disgusting word” when leaving the White House last week en route to Europe, the president often mentions variations of the term unprompted — nearly two dozen times on Twitter this year alone.

A former senior Trump White House official said the president’s impeachment chatter is a way for him to vent his frustration over the investigations that have shadowed his term. It also helps to create drama and a “diametric choice between us and them.”

“It plays into his rhetoric, but I don’t think they want to go through impeachment hell,” said the former official. “In his heart of hearts, he doesn’t want [to get impeached], but the specter of it creates that production value that’s so important to him.”

“It goes back to the campaign,” this person added. “That’s why he does those rallies. It is what motivates his base, it’s what motivates him.”

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But it’s the campaign team that will serve as the external megaphone in this fight, aides and advisers told POLITICO. And if Democrats do start the impeachment process, the campaign will work to amplify what they say is at stake.

“We’ll provide message support for the president and criticize the Democrats for engaging in all-out war at the cost of the country and good policy,” said one senior campaign adviser.

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Trump’s confidence in this strategy stems in part from the logistical reality in Congress. While impeachment proceedings originate in the House, the Senate would need to convict the president by at least a two-thirds majority. So even if the Democratic-controlled House advanced articles of impeachment, the chances of the Republican-led Senate voting to oust Trump seems all but impossible in the current political environment.

And Trump is working to keep his GOP allies in line on impeachment. Aides said comments like the one the president made last week in London — “I have a … 94 percent approval rating as of this morning in the Republican Party” — are a not-so-veiled reminder that any Republicans voting for impeachment would be at odds with the Trump-supporting base.

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“The problem with the impeachment proceeding is that once it opens, you don’t know what you’re going to find or what’s going to come up,” said a Republican close to the White House, who noted the mystery that remains surrounding a dozen cases Mueller referred to federal prosecutors that have yet to be revealed publicly.

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