If Donald Trump’s rhetorical choices are a reflection of his state of mind, the president is increasingly panicked about the scandal that’s likely to lead to his impeachment. On Saturday, for example, he lashed out at several congressional Democrats – four women of color and two Jewish committee chairs – as “savages.”
A day later, Trump accused Democrats of being “dangerous” and trying to “destabilize the United States of America.” It was around the same time as the Republican suggested House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) should be investigated for “treason.”
And then came the “civil war” references.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday to attack the whistleblower at the center of the growing Ukraine scandal and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff after promoting comments from a supportive pastor who told Fox News that the president’s impeachment would lead to a “Civil War-like fracture in this nation.” […]
Trump’s attacks came after he promoted remarks Sunday night from Dallas-based evangelical pastor and Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress – one of Trump’s most prominent backers – during a Sunday interview on “Fox & Friends.”
For those unfamiliar with Jeffress, his record of extremism is tough to defend, though Trump has embraced the right-wing pastor as a key political ally. (Chris Christie once said to associate with Robert Jeffress was “beneath the office of president of the United States.” Trump, however, doesn’t seem to care.)
And yet, there was Jeffress yesterday on Fox News, offering viewers a prediction: “If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”
After Trump published a multi-tweet thread, quoting the right-wing pastor at length, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman from Illinois and an Iraq war veteran, published a tweet that read, “I have visited nations ravaged by civil war. [Donald Trump] I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a President. This is beyond repugnant.”
The New York Times had an interesting item the other day, noting that during the 1998 impeachment fight, the Democratic White House crafted a careful strategy, predicated on the idea that the president and his team had to focus entirely on day-to-day governance – and ignore the impeachment process.
John D. Podesta, President Bill Clinton’s wiry, uber-disciplined chief of staff, delivered the message during a senior staff meeting. White House staffers were supposed to stay in their lanes, doing their jobs, or risk being fired. Any water cooler discussion about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, or the impeachment proceedings, and “I will break your neck,” Mr. Podesta recalled telling his staffers, using an expletive. And that especially applied to Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Clinton’s aides had studied Watergate, and their takeaway was that the public believed President Richard M. Nixon was being buried by the scandal, in part, because he talked about it endlessly. So their approach was that the only way to survive and to keep his job approval rating up was to demonstrate that the White House was still working, and that Mr. Clinton was still doing the job he was elected to do for the people.
It took a great deal of discipline to stick to that script, but Clinton and his team executed the plan quite well; the Democrat’s approval rating remained high; and broad public support for impeachment never materialized.
At no point did Bill Clinton quote radical allies suggesting impeachment would “cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”
Donald Trump has a very different posture in mind.