Although Mulvaney walked the admission back only a few hours later, this could be the new impeachment counter-strategy of an embattled White House
And there it was, practically out of the blue, at a press conference, Donald Trumps acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, by and large admitted that the president held back military aid to force Ukraine to investigate the business dealings of Hunter Biden. Asked whether the administration had told the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that funding would not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well, Mulvaney said: We do we do that all the time with foreign policy.
An admission of the quid pro quo deal that Trump has been denying so vigorously for the past weeks. And although Mulvaney seemed to be walking back his admission only a few hours later, this could be the new impeachment counter-strategy of the increasingly embattled White House. And it would be a good one too.
Most importantly, because it fits the let Trump be Trump strategy that his boosters have been pushing since the beginning against the more cautious and worried Republican establishment. When pushed by the journalist, Mulvaney didnt back down but double down. And I have news for everybody, he said. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.
This is exactly what Trump and the Republican base wants to hear. It plays to all his greatest hits. First and foremost, it has Trump back on the offensive, rather than the defensive. What all Republicans admire, even the ones upset by his vulgar behavior and tweets, is his open confrontations with the liberal establishment. Trump is the only Republican politician that is able to own the libs and that pays big dividends among a population that has convinced itself that they are the biggest victims of liberal political correctness.
This strategy plays to Trump as the taboo-breaker. Yes, I did it, and I dont care. I am not like you, professional politicians, the swamp. And third, it speaks to his masculine leadership style, bold and risky, in sharp contrast to the effeminate approach of Democrats and Republicans In Name Only (Rinos).
But it also completely changes the importance of the impeachment procedure in the House. When the House committee will find evidence for the quid pro quo deal, which seems near certain at this point, many people, and particularly most Republicans, will respond much more blas. We already knew that. It raises the bar for the committee to come up with something new and shocking.
And it also forces Republican lawmakers to take sides already now, when the dirty details and prodding proof of the deal are not yet known. It is much harder for Republicans to betray their president now than after the House committee comes with new and shocking evidence. In fact, various Republicans were already working the Fox programs to minimize the importance of a possible quid pro quo deal, arguing that the withholding of military aid was also in the best interest of the US military.
Finally, Mulvaneys slip of the tongue admission was perfectly timed. He said it only a few hours after the vice-president, Mike Pence, had announced a truce with Turkey, in the bloody Turkish attacks of Kurdish-dominated northern Syria, at least temporarily stemming the outspoken dissent of the hawkish faction of the Republican party. And a day after the alleged Pelosi meltdown, which conservatives are spinning as evidence of the lack of respect for and willingness to collaborate with Trump. They now have several weeks to convince their base that the quid pro quo deal, which will sound more normal with every day that goes by, is nothing special and just one of the many fake scandals that the Democrats try to use to remove a president they never gave a chance.
Dont get me wrong. There is no guarantee that this will work. Who knows what the House committees will come up with in the coming weeks. God knows that there is more than enough to uncover. But at the very least it has Trump back in control of the Republican narrative. Looking strong and still supported by the vast majority of Republicans, who keep opposing impeachment. It has raised the bar for Republicans to turn against their president and for Democrats to shock the nation. The ball is back in their corner.
Cas Mudde is a Guardian US columnist and the Stanley Wade Shelton UGAF professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia