Tuesday, October 1, 2019


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TRUMP’S DECISION POINTS

These five things are still true:

* House Democrats are organized and on offense on impeachment.

* Congressional Republicans are disorganized and on defense on impeachment.

* Most of the media coverage implicitly assumes impeachment is inevitable and desirable.

* The public is more open to an impeachment inquiry and impeachment than it was just a fortnight ago.

* The identity of the whistleblower, the pace and scope of the House investigation, the contours of the White House’s strategy, and the likelihood of new, damaging disclosures all remain unknown.

With Mitch McConnell’s Monday pledge that the Senate would take up any House impeachment vote (although taking it up, despite what some news organizations are reporting, is not necessarily the same as holding a full-blow trial), some are turning to what they see as the ultimate question: is it possible that 20 Republican Senators would join all the Democrats in convicting Trump and removing him from office?

Ramesh Ponnuru deftly illustrates how unlikely that appears currently:

“To illustrate the challenge, assume that the senators line up based on their ideological records, with the most moderate Republicans abandoning Trump and the most conservative ones sticking by him. In that case, the 67th vote would likely have to come from Jerry Moran of Kansas. Trump would have already had to lose not only critics such as Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, but also Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and some-time defenders Lindsey Graham and Roger Wicker.”

Elizabeth Drew makes the case that Democrats are making two errors in their core strategy in the effort to win over Republican senators.  Go more slowly and widen the scope of the articles of impeachment beyond Ukraine, she argues

Looking at the inside game is important, but runs the risk of missing the bigger picture. As the president well knows, public opinion will almost certainly determine the outcome of this process. 

On that measure, things have gotten worse for the president, but as the Associated Press points out, the polls differ on why that is:

“[Polls show that] dramatic partisan polarization remains on impeachment: most Democrats expressing support, the vast majority of Republicans opposed. The polls disagreed over whose opinions are changing — Quinnipiac showing increased impeachment support coming more from Democrats, CNN from Republicans.”

My take: Everything chronicled above is part of the tapestry of what is going on with impeachment. But what matters most now (besides the facts!) is how the improviser-in-chief plans to fight back. 

As he always does in the face of a mortal threat (the “Access Hollywood” tape being the most obvious and illustrative example), Trump is consulting widely, testing out theories, tweeting wildly to see what sticks, focusing on his base above all else, and complaining privately about those who he feels are letting him down.

As David Frum writes in the most essential reading of you day, Trump right now is for the most part doing the opposite of what Bill Clinton did in successfully fighting from being removed from office. 

According to Republican strategists both close to and not close to the White House, here are the six central decisions that Trump – and only Trump – can and must make if he is going to get his presidency back on track:

1. What can he do to shape public opinion, which is turning against him?

2. Should he have his administration cooperate fully with the investigation?

3. How should he organize the machinery to respond to the minute-by-minute demand for responses to the media on impeachment?

4. Should he continue to try to demonize Adam Schiff, the whistleblower, and others who he feels threaten him?

5. What can he do to get Mitch McConnell back on Team Trump?

6. How can he tamp down breathless press coverage of developments that don’t necessarily warrant it?

That last point was put in sharp relief in the last 24 hours.

The clearest evidence that Trump is losing bigly now is that there were really no developments on Monday that were particularly damaging to him and yet the press coverage Monday into Tuesday largely suggested it was another completely horrible news cycle for the administration.

In the weeks ahead, there will be days that are truly gruesome for the White House.  On those days, the message the country will get out of Washington via the media will damage the president with the public.

But if the president can’t find a way to avoid negative press coverage on days that are not particularly gruesome, his chances for survival will decrease, perhaps dramatically.

****

In other news:

John Bolton’s critical public comments on the president and North Korea provide another reminder, as if one were needed, that Bolton represents a clear and future danger to Donald Trump.

Politico chronicles Kamala Harris’ efforts to revive her campaign with a staff shakeup, a story that would have been monumental two weeks ago.

The latest on China’s celebration of 70 years of Communist Party rule and the Hong Kong protests here.

****

Top sports story: Raiders’ Vontaze Burfict suspended for rest of season
ESPN

Top business story: Walgreens joins CVS in suspending sales of heartburn medicine Zantac during safety review
CNBC

Top entertainment story: Jerry Seinfeld Beats ‘Comedians in Cars’ Copyright Suit
Variety


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