/Trump’s Impeachment Defense Borrows an Old Karl Rove Strategy

Trump’s Impeachment Defense Borrows an Old Karl Rove Strategy

Rove and Trump do have one area of agreement.
Photo: Getty Images

President Trump famously isn’t fond of the Bush family, and represents a break from the politics and policy of George W. Bush’s presidency. It’s also fair to say that MAGA folk don’t much agree with the grand strategy for building a Republican majority often articulated by W.’s “boy genius” adviser, Karl Rove. In particular, Rove believed the GOP needed to focus on married suburban women and Latinos to supplement its strength among rural and white working-class women, to whom Bush telegraphed his values via (respectively) No Child Left Behind and comprehensive immigration reform.

But there’s one Rovian strategic principle that Team Trump is following to absolute perfection before and during the impeachment proceedings the president now faces, as explained in a 2005 academic discussion of Rove’s campaign modus operandi:

Tactic #3: Accuse Your Opponent of What He/She is Going to Accuse You Of

This is another preemptive tactic, in which Bush has launched his campaigns by accusing his opponent of his own weaknesses …

Even when these accusations are outlandish, they serve to disarm the opponent, reducing him/her to a defensive “Am not” response. The Swift boat incident provides a good example of this tactic. Not only did the accusations about Kerry’s military service undermine his perceived strength as a decorated war hero, but it led to a “draw” with respect to Bush’s own undistinguished military record.

Is there anything on Earth that better explains the White House/GOP strategy for defending Donald Trump from the various allegations of misconduct that have led the U.S. House to the brink of impeachment? Let’s go through just a sample of accusations and counteraccusations:

Accusation: Trump campaign colludes with Russia to affect the 2016 election.

Counteraccusation: Obama administration and its Secretary of State Hillary Clinton colluded with the Russian government to undermine U.S. interests.

Accusation: Trump as president obstructed justice by interfering with an FBI investigation of alleged collusion with Russia by his campaign.

Counteraccusation: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and “deep state” Democratic operatives obstructed efforts to investigate internal complicity in efforts to prevent Trump’s election, and to fabricate a Russian collusion case.

Accusation: Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to help Trump win.

Counteraccusation: Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election in order to help Hillary Clinton win.

Accusation: Trump threatened to cut off aid to Ukraine if it didn’t investigate alleged corrupt conduct by the Bidens.

Counteraccusation: Biden as vice-president threatened to cut off aid to Ukraine if it did not fire a prosecutor he disliked.

And the biggie:

Accusation: Donald Trump has behaved in a reckless, lawless, and unconstitutional manner that merits impeachment and removal from office.

Counteraccusation: Congress is recklessly and unlawfully pursuing an unconstitutional “coup” to overturn the president’s election in 2016.

Add up the counteraccusations and you obtain the same parallel reality that regular consumers of conservative media have been walked through regularly since 2016: President Trump is the innocent victim of sustained efforts by Democrats, federal bureaucrats, and “fake” (i.e., non-conservative) news media to prevent his election, damage his administration, and remove him from office because these haters are incapable of stopping his reelection in 2020.

For faithful followers of the president, this narrative not only dispels fears about Trump’s character and conduct, but provides a sort of jet fuel for efforts by the MAGA base to police Republican support for their embattled leader during the impeachment saga, and to maximize pro-Trump turnout next year.

And for persuadable swing voters, the strategy of turning every accusation around to point it right back at Trump’s accusers fuzzes it all up into a partisan war of words with a net effect of turning impeachment proceedings into meaningless noise.

It’s this fog of war that House Democrats are fighting through during their impeachment hearings. Probably everyone reading this piece remembers encountering at some point during childhood some annoying kid who repeated every word you said until you just stopped talking. That’s the basic idea behind the GOP defense of Donald Trump.