Witcover: Trump carries on his campaign of telling lies and blowing smoke

Under fire at home and abroad, Donald Trump continues to mix lies and bluster to ward off growing threats to his presidency, apparently guided by the principle that the best defense is a tough-talking offense.

His self-contradictory statements on Russia's meddling in the American election process and his harsh warning to annihilate Iran confirm his commitment to govern through bullying behind a thin façade of erratic diplomacy.

After attempting to "clarify" his Helsinki summit fiasco by finally affirming the U.S.intelligence community's finding that Russia interfered, Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday night that "it is all a big hoax."

Later, firing back at a warning from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not to "play with the lion's tail" lest he "live to regret it," Mr. Trump stormed back in all capital letters:

"NEVER, EVER, THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN, OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE AND DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!"

So much for consistency and the niceties of diplomacy in the age of Mr. Trump.

Even House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said on Fox News of the meddling: "The evidence is overwhelming, and the president needs to say that and act like it."

Mr. Trump's latest demonstrations of flexibility in dealing with his own versions of the truth, and his blunt notion of diplomacy, illustrate the perils of this political neophyte's presidency.

He behaves as if he believes his skills and success in the cut-throat world of real estate, plus his own brash persona, are easily transferable to running a great nation. Whether he now has learned otherwise is more doubtful with each passing day.

For that reason, it is more imperative than ever that the other leaders of what is now his Republican Party in and out of Congress to snap out of their collective lethargy or stupor, and regain some influence.

But most of them, holding the majorities in the House and Senate, will look first to their own desire for re-election in the midterm congressional voting, by riding on Trump's coattails. Most polls still indicate he has as much as 90 percent support among the GOP faithful.

That reality drives the Democratic fund-raising and turnout strategy to generate a so-called blue wave required to undercut if not terminate the Trump presidency at midterm. Any impeachment must originate in the House, which would then send the issue to trial by the Senate, requiring a two-thirds majority to convict.

Only two American presidents have ever been impeached -- Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 -- and both were acquitted on partisan support. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face the prospect when key GOP colleagues informed him he did not have the votes to beat the rap.

This time around, if the case against Mr. Trump gets as far as the Senate, it is likely to rest on the outcome of the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the 2016 elections meddling and whether Mr. Trump's campaign colluded with the Russians. Mr. Trump continues to deny it and to argue there was no abuse of power, another basis for conviction.

Meanwhile, the cloud over the Trump presidency has persuaded him to adopt a defensive crouch in the whole matter, while also striving to stay on the offensive on both domestic and foreign fronts with his America First posture.

He rallies his domestic support through campaign-style appearances across the country and his aggressive and bombastic, take-no-prisoners style. He relentlessly demeans his critics, lately calling former CIA Director John Brennan "a low-life" and threatening to deny security clearance to him and five other former high intelligence officials.

Mr. Trump seems determined to remain the same unorthodox political original who upset his Democratic opponent -- still "Crooked Hillary" to him -- and beat all the odds in 2016, winning the presidency that now rests shakily on his shoulders.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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