Donald Trump’s entire life story of fighting and surviving, of cheating personal and professional ruin over and over, has delivered him to his greatest battle yet — the one to save his presidency.
Trump is facing down a swarm of investigations from multiple congressional committees, a special counsel, state and federal prosecutors, and private litigants. His entire life is under scrutiny.
But the fight back has begun.
If there is any President who could bear such strain, who would perhaps relish the struggle, prosper amid its cacophony and be willing to cross all sorts of conventional lines to stay alive, it would surely be Trump.
As a youth at New York Military Academy, the future President learned one thing above all else: “life is about survival. It’s always about survival,” according to writer Michael D’Antonio in his biography of Trump.
It’s been Trump’s motto ever since, no matter the collateral damage and the cost of legal battles and reputational hits, personal scandals and bankruptcies.
Now America is about to be dragged along on Trump’s most existential struggle yet. Survival in a personal and political sense now defines his life, with Robert Mueller’s report expected to be filed soon and Democrats unfurling an oversight blitz that could lead to impeachment.
When House Democrats on Monday unveiled a mammoth document demand from a list of 81 potential witnesses linked to Trump’s businesses, campaigns, presidency and family, he and aides initially pledged cooperation.
But the mask soon slipped.
Trump responded on Tuesday according to his creed, with a promise of all-out confrontation and a searing blast at his enemies.
“It’s a disgrace. It’s a disgrace to our country,” he said, accusing Democrats of being consumed by anger at their loss in 2016, and framing the coming fight as an extension of his 2020 re-election campaign.
Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, set the vituperative tone of a fight against a Democratic majority seeking to expose the President as historically corrupt.
“Democrats have embarked on a fishing expedition because they are terrified that their two year false narrative of ‘Russia collusion’ is crumbling,” Sanders said in a statement on Monday night. “The Democrats are not after the truth, they are after the President.”
Sanders and everyone else inside the White House are about to endure the bitter, full-on misery of a multi-front oversight campaign. That means a blizzard of subpoenas, officials being hauled up to Capitol Hill to testify under penalty of perjury and a mountain of legal bills.
But Trump has lived in the eye of such storms for much of his adult life, and he comes to the fight with certain advantages.
His clash with House Democrats will give him the foil in the form of his Democratic tormentors that he’s lacked ever since his 2016 campaign. This President is always most effective with an enemy to define himself against.
The duel will serve to unite the Republican Party in Washington behind the President — amid some signs of cracks opening in the GOP edifice in the Senate, at least, over his national emergency declaration.
It will be a rallying moment that will enrage and enthuse Trump’s base ahead of the 2020 campaign. That may mean he can avoid risky strategies, such as the disastrous government shutdown, to keep his troops motivated.
Republicans are already working off the Trump playbook, which is designed to present him as the victim of unfair presidential persecution by Democrats.
“He just believes they are out to take a wrecking ball to his life,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Tuesday after meeting the President. “They’ll go nuts.”
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas warned that the Democratic investigation was less about finding the truth and more about ousting a President.
“It’s all about setting up the stage for impeachment proceedings. That’s pretty clear,” Cornyn told CNN’s Manu Raju.
Republicans make such arguments in the knowledge that the nation, despite Trump’s unpopularity and widespread suspicions about his conduct, is not yet ready for the trauma of the third impeachment drama in 50 years.
Still, a new Quinnipiac University poll shows a public appetite for investigations. Some 64% of respondents thought Trump had committed crimes before he became President. Even 33% of Republicans thought so. But Trump’s approval rating among GOP voters still stood at 82%, suggesting that some of their numbers think he’s a criminal but don’t care.
But only 35% of those polled thought that Democrats should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President — a number that explains the party’s caution in the messaging around its investigations.