Conservative groups and Trump allies are launching their own individual efforts to fight impeachment, panicked by the slow pace of the White House response.
The Club for Growth unveiled four new digital ad spots on Wednesday to air in congressional districts moderate Democrats won in 2018 including in California, Illinois, New Mexico and Virginia. The ads argue these lawmakers betrayed voters and became too beholden to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by pursing impeachment instead of passing legislation.
Former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon started a daily radio show and podcast this week focused solely on the nitty gritty of impeachment, which he has called a “mortal threat to Trump’s presidency.”
And the Republican National Committee’s 12-member impeachment task force also is buying impeachment-related ads in 30 Democratically controlled congressional districts that President Donald Trump won in 2016. It marks the first time the RNC has bought television spots in eight years.
The individual efforts are springing up as Republicans grow increasingly dismayed by the White House’s delayed reaction to the Democratic impeachment proceedings. Unlike the Supreme Court nomination fights, or the battle to pass a GOP tax bill, the White House has not yet assembled a formidable battle plan or engaged outside allies in a major effort to fight impeachment. The void has left adrift lawmakers on Capitol Hill, prominent conservative leaders and well-funded right-leaning groups, all of whom are struggling to defend the president as Democrats collect congressional testimony and Trump faces the most challenging stretch of his three years in office.
“While I agree that President Trump hasn’t done anything wrong, you should not undervalue the value of messaging to the American people,” said one conservative leader. “It is just not being run like a public relations or political campaign, and I wish it were.”
“It has felt like only the president is out there defending himself, and it seems more dignified to let us street fight for him,” this person added.
The lack of vision, strategy and coordination has been a frequent critique of conservatives and Trump advisers ever since Democrats kicked off the impeachment probe a month ago. The White House has started sending out daily impeachment talking points, but it has not hired any additional staff dedicated to the fight or assembled a separate war room operation as President Bill Clinton’s staff did during his 1990s impeachment battle. To do so, some White House officials say, would go against the narrative that Trump has behaved appropriately.
The White House has started to host regular calls between top administration officials and key House Republican lawmakers, who often attend the congressional depositions and testimony. The calls started because both the president and Republican lawmakers wanted more coordination and collaboration, said one senior administration official.
On Tuesday, dozens of House Republicans stormed a secure hearing room where investigators have been deposing witnesses, which delayed the proceedings. The move came after Trump publicly said he wished Republicans were doing more to defend him – and after nearly two dozen members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus met with Trump at the White House for over an hour on Tuesday to discuss impeachment and other matters, according to lawmakers and aides.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, insisted there has been “minimal” coordination between congressional Republicans and the White House.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham praised the House Republicans’ actions, calling them “great.”
“Due process is vital and all of these false allegations being made behind closed doors is dangerous for this country,” Grisham said. “I hope the media, which are generally the first to demand transparency by those in power, will call the Democrats out for holding these meetings in secret.”
More than 45 House Republicans have access to the depositions and transcripts.
But Trump allies say these different moves aren’t enough of a coordinated defense for such a fast-moving story.
“Folks came rushing into the burning building to help with the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court. People are more than willing to help President Trump now, but they have to be given some direction or an elevator pitch,” said Jason Miller, who served as senior communications adviser to the Trump 2016 campaign. “Once you get past the Republican talking points of Democrats running the impeachment inquiry in private and congressional witnesses not saying anything new, the talking points stop. There has be some meat to give to Trump supporters.”
Miller said Republican lawmakers need to do a better job of strategically leaking information to the media from the behind-closed-doors testimony to build Republicans’ nothing-to-see-here argument. He alleges Democrats are leaking tidbits of information every day to drive news cycle favorable to them.
Some conservatives are pleased with the White House’s primary argument that the impeachment proceedings are unfair because Republicans have been not given due process to call witnesses or cross-examine them. The White House’s top attorney Pat Cipollone laid out this thinking in a recent eight-page letter to Pelosi.