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Richard Nixon had “impeachment diplomacy.” Bill Clinton had his war room, stocked with lawyers and spin doctors. And President Trump has … his twitter account?
As House Democrats march forward with their impeachment inquiry, the Trump administration is offering, well, very little.
As my colleagues reported in the paper today, there’s no organized response coming from the White House. No team enforcing message discipline. No fleet of supporters descending on cable news to recite The Official Talking Points. It’s not even clear who — if anyone — is heading up the effort. (Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, spent part of last Sunday playing golf.)
“We have stated this several times,” the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said in an email. “There has not been any effort to put together a war room. The president did nothing wrong.”
This non-approach stems from the top. Since Mr. Trump came to Washington, there has been one messenger-in-chief for this White House — and no one can accuse him of under-communicating.
Over the past three days, Mr. Trump has tweeted a seemingly endless stream of media criticism, insults and, yes, even curses. His 40-minute news conference Wednesday was a combative tour de force, careening between grievances, boasts and heckling.
It’s important to remember that a fair amount of Mr. Trump’s impeachment crisis is of his own making. After escaping serious political fallout from the Mueller investigation, he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son. Then, he agreed to release the reconstructed transcript of the call where he made the request, giving Democrats the ammunition they needed to push their impeachment inquiry forward.
Today, he doubled down, publicly calling on another foreign power — China — to examine Mr. Biden and his family.
That solo approach has worked for Mr. Trump in the past. As my colleague Peter Baker points out, saying the thing that enrages his critics — but doing it in public view — has seemed to prompt less blowback than if he’d said it in private.
But impeachment, even in this early stage, has already proven to be something showstopping in a capital grown accustomed to the extraordinary: a true breakout moment, one that’s overtaken not just the White House but also Congress, the presidential campaign, the news media and a large swath of the federal government.
We don’t know whether Mr. Trump’s one-man show will hold up under this kind of intense pressure.
What we do know is that the White House is making a fairly risky political bet with this decentralized strategy.
In the midst of the biggest crisis for his presidency, Mr. Trump and his team are simply assuming that his supporters will stick by him, no matter what he does. Some Trump allies even argue that impeachment could bolster his re-election bid, by motivating his base to support him against the Washington “swamp.”
And if Trump supporters stay by his side, they argue, so will Senate Republicans. Those are, of course, the votes that matter most in this whole situation. (Assuming all Senate Democrats support removal from office, it would take support from at least 20 Republicans to oust the president.)
So far, Mr. Trump’s supporters have largely been proven correct. But they may be misunderstanding the silence from elected Republicans.
Privately, Republicans say they’re anxious about defending the president when they don’t know what might be coming next — and they aren’t receiving any real guidance from the White House.
With most Republican lawmakers back in their districts for the congressional recess, they’ve stayed out of the press, a position that will get harder to maintain once they’re back in Washington.
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The question you’re likely to keep hearing
Senator Bernie Sanders, 78, is recovering nicely from his heart operation, according to his wife, Jane, and expects to participate in the next Democratic debate later this month.
But his trip to the hospital this week set off a fierce debate over how old, exactly, is too old to be president. As I wrote in today’s paper, it’s a question that taps straight into the anxieties of a country where, in 2020, the highest share of the electorate will be older than 65.
Mr. Sanders is one of a trio of septuagenarians topping the Democratic primary field. Mr. Biden, 76, Senator Elizabeth Warren, 70, and Mr. Sanders have consistently led in the contest to face Mr. Trump, 73, next year.
Here’s what some of our readers had to say about age and the presidency:
“As a person who had triple bypass surgery and more than two decades later having three stents being inserted, I would like to give one advice to the senator,” offered Cemal Ekin of Warwick, R.I. “You need to pace yourself and take rests.”
Sheldon Bunin of Jackson Heights, N.Y., said he was a trial lawyer in New York for 40 years. “As I approached 70 I realized I was past my prime and before I started losing cases and losing words and did not think as fast as I once did and was time to retire,” he said. “Bernie let me assure you that the year between 78 and 79 will be worse than 77 to 78.”
“Turn the hard work over to Liz,” he added.
“I too suffered from chest discomfort about five years ago and had two stents inserted,” said Bob Ackerman of Detroit. “Now I lift weights, complete metric century bike rides and consider myself a reasonably fit 68-year-old.”
“While I lean toward Klobuchar or Booker,” he said, “Senator Sanders has put important issues into play and deserves serious attention. Please pace yourself, Bernie.”
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