Politico has not one but two stories about the woes Trump supporters in Washington are having coming up with and sticking to a strategy to fight impeachment. Republicans are experiencing "messaging stumbles," one headline proclaimed, while another pointed to the Trump team's "scramble" to come up with a plan to fight impeachment.
Well, these are kind ways to put it.
Over the past several days, Republicans have repeatedly come off in television interviews as duplicitous liars while President Donald Trump, even by his own dim standards, appears to be in meltdown mode. Appearances by defenders, including White House special adviser Stephen Miller, the president's private lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, rely on a collection of untruths combined with a greatest-hits collection of Trumpland conspiracy theories. (Robert S. Mueller III! Hillary Clinton! The DNC!) As for Trump, he's tweeting about a "civil war" and an attempted "coup" while ranting about treason and demanding the identity of the whistleblower who filed the complaint about his inappropriate doings in the Oval Office, even though federal law offers that person substantial protections.
All of this, by any objective measurement, looks both desperate and unhinged. Little wonder polls show support for an impeachment inquiry is growing. But the chances of the Republicans brainstorming a better, more coherent and honest argument defending the president and combating the growing clamor for impeachment is slim. That's because it doesn't exist.
One less-than-truthful idea promoted these days is that there is always a winning strategy, a spin on the events that will save the day if only you can figure it out. A convincing tale, it is said, will win out over almost any inconvenient fact. (Crisis public relations firms make big bucks pitching corporations and wealthy individuals caught out on bad behavior on this belief.) But that's not true, as Republicans are now learning.
The real facts do not back Trump up. Trump himself has admitted he froze military aid to Ukraine and then hopped on the phone and, er, suggested to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. And he released the rough transcript of his July call with Zelensky that confirms all of this.
It's likely Trump thought he could swamp the call in the same blizzard of misinformation that's swallowed everything from the Mueller report to the subject of his never-released tax returns. After all, he promptly offered up competing reasons for stopping the military assistance, first claiming it was an effort to combat corruption, and then turning around and saying it was actually an effort to get European countries to step up to the plate.
Yes, the attack on the Bidens is catching on. A poll released by Monmouth University on Tuesday showed a plurality believes Trump's accusations against Biden. They aren't true, but it's likely resonating because many voters instinctively believe there is something wrong with the fact that no small part of Hunter Biden's entire Washington career and financial existence consisted of coasting on his father's coattails. That's a big yuck for almost everyone. But this isn't an either/or situation. That same Monmouth poll also shows more than 6 out of 10 believe it is "not appropriate" for a president to make such requests of a foreign leader.
At the same time, another poll, this one released Wednesday by the Progressive Change Institute, found that not only do a plurality -- 49 percent -- say they strongly or somewhat support an impeachment inquiry, more than a third of the 43 percent who do not are not exactly falling for Trump's story. Instead, they say they believe Trump committed "high crimes and misdemeanors" but that Democrats will hurt themselves more than Republicans if they attempt to impeach him. "Our poll reveals that many who supposedly oppose impeachment actually agree with Democrats and are just scared about the politics," said Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Institute, in a statement accompanying the findings. That's hardly a ringing endorsement for the president.
It's quite possible Trump and the Republicans can damage Biden -- perhaps even strike a fatal blow to his presidential ambitions -- without actually improving their own fortunes. It's Trump, after all, who made an inappropriate request of a U.S. ally. That's a simple and true story line, and one that's sticking with people. When you need to say, as the White House did in one pass at the situation, "There was no quid pro quo," you are well on your way to losing the perception war. As an anonymous Republican told Politico, "Talking points never work. A strategy with real substance and real facts is always better." And the facts are not on Trump's side. No amount of dissembling, lying, bluster or confusion can compensate for that.