For months, Donald Trump and his team took great care to avoid criticizing Special Counsel Robert Mueller directly. The president would dismiss the Russia scandal, but he wouldn't go after the man leading it.
In the spring, Trump abandoned caution, and in the weeks and months that followed, his offensive against Mueller intensified. This week, the president referred to the special counsel as "disgraced and discredited," before describing Mueller's team as "thugs" and a "national disgrace."
There's no great mystery as to Trump's motivations: the special counsel's investigation represents an existential threat to Trump's presidency. He obviously sees value in undermining Mueller's credibility and standing now, in preparation for possible political crises in the near future.
The trouble for the president, however, is that these efforts don't appear to be working. Consider the latest poll from Fox News, for example.
Approval of Special Counsel Robert Mueller stands at 59 percent, up 11 points since July, and 40 percent expect the investigation will find Trump committed criminal or impeachable offenses, up 5 points.
This comes on the heels of a CNN poll that offered more bad news for Trump: most Americans disapprove of his handling of the Russia investigation, believe he's interfered with the investigation, and consider his claims about the probe to be false.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent explained, "Trump is losing every single public argument about the Mueller probe.... The fodder is failing, and so are all his lies. Only small minorities believe the probe is a witch hunt; think he hasn't interfered in it; believe he's telling the truth about these matters; and don't think he should testify."
If the president's goal is to win a public-relations campaign before the crisis reaches a boiling point, Trump appears to be failing.