Syria furor underscores Trump's isolation

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE has found himself increasingly isolated in Washington at a crucial point of his battle against House Democrats’ fast-moving impeachment inquiry. 

Trump alienated many Republicans with his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria as Turkey mounted an offensive against U.S.-allied Kurds, touching off a controversy that has reverberated for more than a week. 

Meanwhile, the president’s White House team has largely been absent from the airwaves as the administration’s blanket refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry is put to the test.

ADVERTISEMENT

As a result, it has fallen largely on Trump to serve as his own messenger and defender on matters of policy and politics.

He has responded by lashing out in increasingly coarse terms at Democrats pursuing an impeachment case and his critics who question his foreign policy strategy.

“Democrats are allowing no transparency at the Witch Hunt hearings. If Republicans ever did this they would be excoriated by the Fake News,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “Let the facts come out from the charade of people, most of whom I do not know, they are interviewing for 9 hours each, not selective leaks.”

Trump is dealing with a converging series of bad headlines on different topics.

Democrats in late September launched an impeachment inquiry, and a steady stream of witnesses have come to Capitol Hill over the past week to deliver damning testimony.

Each witness seems to create a bad headline for Trump. On Tuesday, it was Fiona Hill, the senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs who said former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonOfficial testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Top NSC aide puts Sondland at front lines of Ukraine campaign, speaking for Trump Highly irregular: Rudy, the president, and a venture in Ukraine MORE described Trump’s personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGrowing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Top NSC aide puts Sondland at front lines of Ukraine campaign, speaking for Trump Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race MORE as a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

Giuliani has seen two of his associates — both photographed in the past with Trump — arrested on campaign finance charges related to Ukraine. There have also been reports that Giuliani could be the subject of a criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York.

On Monday, the White House faced questions about a violent video shared at a conservative gathering over the weekend that depicted Trump gunning down media organizations and prominent liberals. The White House denounced the video, but Trump has yet to say anything about it.

And Trump has come under intense criticism over his Syria maneuverings from lawmakers in his own party, who represent his lines of defense on impeachment.

Republican strategists and former Trump advisers doubt that Republicans will break with Trump on impeachment because of differences over Syria, no matter how angry they are.

“Privately, it's yet another example of where congressional Republicans find themselves at extreme odds with the administration,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye.

“But publicly is another matter. Yes, they can be critical of the decisions Trump made on this, even loudly, but while so many of them privately would like to see Trump go, they are not willing to say so publicly,” Heye said.

He added that GOP lawmakers are likely to stick with Trump unless something really changes in the polls.

“We've started to see some loss in Republican support in the polls, but it’s not clear if this is a trend or not,” he said. “Until that's clear, we likely won't see any real change — just more hand-wringing on policy of the candidate they still support.”

Trump has taken the lead on fighting impeachment, firing off tweets critical of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLouisiana governor wins re-election Dynamic scoring: Forward-thinking budgeting practices to grow our economy Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' MORE (D-Calif.) and other key Democrats and using his rallies and other public appearances to unload on an unfair “witch hunt.” 

White House aides have made scant television appearances to bolster Trump’s defense, and some former administration officials said they were privately waiting to see how testimony with House lawmakers played out in assessing the political landscape ahead.

Some Republicans have gripes with the White House strategy on impeachment, saying the administration should bring on more communicators to work on messaging.

“Right now, public opinion is moving against him,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who argued that Trump has been smart in branding the impeachment inquiry unfair but that he would eventually need to hand over the reins to someone else to carry through the message. 

O’Connell said he thinks Trump can shift public opinion, though he suggests it will be a challenge.

White House allies like Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (R-S.C.) have separated out their criticism of Trump over Syria from impeachment, providing a defense amid an onslaught of criticism from Democrats.

There has also been some criticism of Trump on the substance of his communications with Ukraine, which he urged to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry MORE, a 2020 contender.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyBooker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (R-Iowa) has broken with the president on his call to identify the whistleblower who raised alarm over his July 25 call with Ukraine’s leader.

But most Republicans, even if they differ with actions taken by the president, have also criticized Democrats for seeking impeachment.

Many argue the president’s actions are not impeachable offenses, and some have joined the White House in arguing that Democrats are seeking to use impeachment to unseat a president they can’t defeat in the polls.

“House Democrats, especially those in Trump districts, will find themselves in a political danger zone if they prioritize impeachment over everything else they promised their constituents they would accomplish but haven’t gotten to the finish line,” a former administration official said.