Three things to watch as Trump reacts to his impeachment

Spokeswoman said president was working rather than watching TV. Then came his tweet

A Trump supporter yells at pro-impeachment demonstrators as they rally in front of the Capitol on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
A Trump supporter yells at pro-impeachment demonstrators as they rally in front of the Capitol on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted December 18, 2019 at 1:52pm

ANALYSIS — In so many ways, the likely split screen Wednesday evening of the House voting to impeach President Donald Trump as he is on stage at a campaign rally is fitting.

In fact, there will be a certain poetry as the two events coincide — no, collide — in real-time. A special prime time edition of what so often over the last three years has felt like a dramatic made-for-television presidency that has been referred to in this space and others as “The Trump Show.”

Republican and Democratic members went to the House floor Wednesday morning to give usually passionate 90-second speeches. As both have for months, GOP members defended the president and Democrats charged him with violating the Constitution and putting himself above the law.

House Rules ranking member Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Democrats’ articles of impeachment were based on “a purported quid-pro-quo that did not exist.” Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., moments later said Trump tried with the Ukrainian president to “extract a personal political favor — that’s a cold, hard fact.”

As the House prepared for a day of speeches and procedural votes ahead of evening votes on the articles of abuse of power and obstructing Congress, Trump appeared to still be in the White House residence late into the morning. There was no Marine Corps guard outside the West Wing as of 11:30 a.m., and he was tweeting quotes from cable news talking heads. Here are three things to expect from Trump as he offers prebuttals and reactions to his impeachment:

Fired-up POTUS

The president fired off a white-hot, six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday that included insults and false statements. He even accused her of an “attempted coup” — even though if he was somehow convicted and removed by the GOP-run Senate, Vice President Mike Pence would take over; he’s also a Republican.

“Your chosen candidate lost the election in 2016, in an Electoral College landslide (306-227), and you and your party have never recovered from this defeat,” Trump wrote in the highly unusual letter. “You have developed a full-fledged case of what many in the media call Trump Derangement Syndrome and sadly, you will never get over it! … You view democracy as your enemy!”

There is nothing on Trump’s public schedule until 4:25 p.m., when he is slated to depart the White House for the rally in Battle Creek, Michigan. When he emerges, the forecast is for blustery conditions.

One Democratic strategist predicts a presidential eruption as he heads to Marine One.

“Based on how he’s been responding to impeachment, he seems to understand the severity and historical nature of what’s happening today,” the Democratic strategist said. “He’ll forever have an asterisk attached to his Presidency and he seems well aware of its significance. His reflex is to lash-out so I’d just expect him to run the same playbook.”

If Trump is seething, one White House official told CQ Roll Call any presidential peevishness has yet to trickle down to his staff.

“The mood in this building is the same as it has been: Busy,” the official said. “There’s nothing different this morning. … In fact, my morning has been incredibly routine.. … My dad texted me and said, ‘They said they’d do this back in 2016.” The official added a shrug for emphasis from behind his West Wing desk.

Rally rhetoric

The coming prime time spectacle likely has cable news executives salivating. Imagine the ratings, as Trump himself has said.

But the president has a political calculation to make once onstage inside the Kellogg Arena: Go full bore against his impeachment — or, as he’s done at times, simply dismiss it as Washington’s new business as usual.

Dismissive Trump was on display Tuesday afternoon in the Oval Office when he claimed of the House’s ongoing impeachment process: “I’m not watching. … I haven’t seen it. … We look forward to getting onto the Senate.”

On Wednesday, his top spokeswoman claimed he would be “working all day” rather than be glued to TV coverage. Minutes later, however, Trump fired off an all-caps tweet slamming the inquiry and coming vote.

Michael Steel, a former aide to then-Speaker John A. Boehner and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said Trump should take the battle out of his Battle Creek message.

“The smart strategy for the president would be to minimize the essentially party-line vote in the House, predict a swift and successful process in the Senate, and turn to touting the strength of the U.S. economy under his leadership,” he said Wednesday. “That is not, of course, what he is likely to do.”

Courting Michigan

The president will be making his latest stop — official or campaign — in a swing state Wednesday evening. He and his campaign aides are not exactly trying to mask their attempts to salvage just enough of the final 2016 Electoral College tally to win a second term.

There are signs he has closed on Democrats there but still has some ground to make up after his stunning win in the state in 2016, when he bested Hillary Clinton by less than half a percentage point.

This spring, RealClearPolitics’ polling average, based on two recent Michigan surveys, showed Trump trailing several potential Democratic opponents — one by double digits. The latest version of that average puts him within 8 percentage points of two leading Democratic candidates and 3 points of another.

He leads former Vice President Joe Biden in a hypothetical one-on-one race by 7.7 percentage points, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., by 7.3 points there. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren leads the incumbent by 3 percentage points, according to the RealClear average.

Expect the president — once he vents all he needs to about his impeachment — deliver an economic message to his supporters there that they and their state are better off than when he took office. Just like he did at a March rally in Grand Rapids.

“You have a lot of companies pouring into Michigan and your other great states,” he said then. “We want to have a lot of cars per family. We want people to lead a great life and we want people to make those cars, and we want all of these companies to keep coming to Michigan.”

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