Can Trump’s usual strategy succeed with the Ukraine scandal?

Donald Trump has a strategy for dealing with bad news that has worked for him so far in retaining Republican support, especially in Congress. When news starts breaking about some major transgression, what he does is to first deny that there is anything there and then slowly but steadily concede the truth of elements of the story until the full story (as far as we know) is out in the open. The strategy works on several levels. One is that when he does say that something did happen, his supporters assume that it cannot be that bad if he is willing to publicly acknowledge it. Also since each little bit, by itself, is not seen as too bad, his supporters go on record publicly still supporting him for that little bit until finally they are on the hook for the whole awful mess and there is no going back. They then say that this is old news that ‘everyone’ knew about so it cannot be that bad. It is like the metaphor of the frog in slowly heated water. (I know, I know, that the basis for the metaphor is false and frogs do jump out of slowly boiling water.)

The Ukraine story is a perfect example of this. The facts of the story that are now accepted by Trump are pretty damning. Trump ordered the withholding of military aid to the Ukraine and then later had a phone call in July with the president of that country asking him to dig up dirt on the business dealings in that country of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son. It is not clear what the Ukrainian president’s response was but that is immaterial. The fact of using taxpayer money in the form of the military aid budget to serve his re-election needs is a massive abuse of governmental power.

Cartoonist Jen Sorensen imagines how the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president went down.

But look at how we got there. It started with a whistleblower leak from an intelligence source that was sent to the inspector general of the intelligence services that there had been an improper promise made in a phone call to a foreign leader. That was initially denied in its entirety and Joseph Maguire, Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, refused to release the whistleblower complaint to congress as apparently required by law. But slowly over time, as more details emerged, Trump changed his story correspondingly. He said that there was a phone call but nothing untoward was said. Then it became clear that the country was Ukraine. Then it was that the call was about Hunter Biden’s private business dealings. Then it was that military aid was conditional on getting the dirt.

Seth Meyers shows how Trump slowly acknowledged the facts of the case, with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani often used as the mechanism for revealing bits and pieces of the story in his inimitable bumbling way.

Then today comes the final, and most damning element, that Trump ordered the halt of military aid shortly before he spoke to the Ukrainian president, which clearly meant that he was intending to use it as leverage.

The Washington Post first reported Trump’s freezing of $391m in aid to Ukraine. Trump ordered his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, it said, to suspend the payment “at least a week” before the 25 July call with Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which he reportedly asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate the Bidens – eight times, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This is so bad that even Democrats who had beene skittish about impeachment are now calling for it.

The seven new Democrats, all with military and national security backgrounds, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed: “These allegations are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent.”

The representatives are centrists who won previously Republican-held districts where Trump has been popular, victories key to the Democrats retaking the House last year. They are therefore influential with party leadership.

It is not at all clear that Biden will eventually be the Democratic nominee. If Biden does drop out of the race, then Trump’s efforts will have been for naught.


  1. blf says

    Pelosi announces impeachment inquiry into Trump over Ukraine scandal:

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday evening that the US House of Representatives will launch impeachment proceedings into Donald Trump, setting up an extraordinary constitutional clash over allegations he sought the help of a foreign country to harm a political rival.

    “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law,” Pelosi said […]


    Trump has admitted that he discussed Biden on a call with [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelenskiy but has denied any suggestion of a “quid pro quo” even as it was reported that he ordered his staff to withhold nearly $400m in aid to Ukraine days before his call with Zelenskiy.


    Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, is due to testify on Thursday, his deadline for turning over the whistleblower complaint to Congress.

    Adam Schiff, the head of the House permanent select committee on Intelligence, said on Tuesday that the whistleblower would like to speak to the panel and has requested guidance from the [sic] Maguire on how to do so.


  2. Steve Cameron says

    It’s disappointing that this is what it took to get the Dems to pull the trigger. Waiting until the party is affected by Trump’s corruption can’t help but look — what’s the word? — partisan.

  3. says

    Trump’s strategies are irrelevant to the republicans. He could be a cannibal or a necrophiliac and they would still support him because he is their path to power. They will vote the impeachment down no matter what, and they will do anything they can to use it for political gain, because: power. He could be caught naked negotiating with satan and he’ll be fine as long as he does not threaten republic hold on congress. Which he can’t, unless he kills and eats Mitch McConnell.

  4. Ridana says

    If an impeachment inquiry airs enough dirt to get the public to finally wake up and overwhelmingly be onboard for removing him from office in a way that even McTurtle can’t bury, I can see them convicting him, after which Pence pardons him, and like Arpaio, he still runs in the Nov. election.
    I don’t know if I’m kidding or not.

  5. John Morales says

    Ridana, “When news starts breaking about some major transgression, what he does is to first deny that there is anything there and then slowly but steadily concede the truth of elements of the story until the full story (as far as we know) is out in the open.”

    What’s left to air? Basically, details and specifics.

    Whoever cares about that stuff, by now knows it’s there.

    It’s pretty obvious Trump and the Republicans are happily using each other to their mutual benefice — as they see it, at least.

    (He’ll be discarded in due course, of course of course)

  6. brucegee1962 says

    I see the impeachment investigation as largely a lose-lose for Democrats. If, after all this buildup, Pelosi refuses to enter articles of impeachment, then the Dem base is furious. If the House passes impeachment, then the Senate Repubs will squash it, and Trump will claim victory and “total vindication” or some such garbage, and will manage to come out looking stronger. And if by some miracle Moscow Mitch locates his spine in a closet somewhere and the Senate upholds the impeachment, Pence would be worse than Donald — identical policies, but executed by someone who is sane and will listen to advice, not someone whose mentality is deteriorating before our eyes, and thus more of a danger for reelection in 2020. Still, Dems didn’t have much choice at this point.

    The most amazing thing here is the timing. If Biden was the actual nominee, then Trump’s typical strategy of making accusations without evidence and then repeating it until it becomes gospel to his followers would probably work. But by slamming Biden now, all his machine is doing now is adding fuel to Warren’s rise to frontrunner.

  7. machintelligence says

    Timing is indeed everything. Keep the investigations going right up to the Republican convention — or beyond. Then drop the impeachment hammer and see which Senators are still willing to defend Trump. If enough dirt has been exposed they would be in a lose -- lose situation: lose their base support or offend every moderate voter in the country.

  8. brucegee1962 says

    @machineintelligence, I hope you’re right that there are still a few moderate voters still out there. To paraphrase one of my lefty friends, if I ever meet a moderate voter, I’ll be sure to ask them if they’re offended.

  9. brucegee1962 says

    Also, it occurs to me that if the impeachment vote gets to be too close to the election, it gives the Republican congress critters an out. “Hey, ultimately, it isn’t MY opinion that ought to matter. It’s the opinion of the American People. Let’s let THEM decide whether to remove him from office or not.”

    And you know, ultimately, it isn’t the Donald himself that’s the biggest thing wrong with this country right now — it’s his voters. I think the only thing that can make them scurry back into their holes is a sound shellacking at the ballot box.

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