The Memo: GOP discontent deepens on Trump impeachment messaging

Republican discontent is deepening about the lack of a single, direct message from the White House aimed at blunting the Democratic push for President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet MORE’s impeachment.

It has been several weeks since details of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky leaked to the media. Since then, the president has cycled through several rationales, justifications and counterattacks on Twitter and in public remarks.

But his approach lacks consistency and discipline, and Republican insiders are sounding the alarm.

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“There is growing concern. We are almost a month into this and there is still no White House strategy,” said Alex Conant, a longtime GOP strategist who was communications director for Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision GOP lawmaker: UK-Huawei deal could force US to 'reexamine' intelligence-sharing partnership MORE’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign.

Another GOP consultant, Dan Judy, agreed.

“The messaging is just not coordinated within the White House,” Judy said. “That’s a problem. But it is not surprising because that has been a problem with this administration since the very beginning.”

The president, combative and mercurial as ever, has lashed out almost daily since details of the call with Zelensky emerged. On the call, Trump encouraged his Ukrainian opposite number to investigate 2020 Democratic front-runner Joe BidenJoe BidenPerry delegation talking points stressed pushing Ukraine to deal with 'corruption' GOP senator airs anti-Biden ad in Iowa amid impeachment trial Biden photobombs live national news broadcast at one of his rallies MORE and his son Hunter.

Among Trump’s arguments: The call was “perfect”; Democrats are engaged in another “witch hunt"; Democrats want a “coup”; Trump offered Zelensky no quid pro quo; removing Trump from office could fracture the nation like the Civil War; the allegations are “bullshit.”

Those arguments are largely subjective, but the president has also thrown out some factual assertions that are dubious at best. 

He has repeatedly attacked the reliability of the whistleblower whose allegations began the saga, despite the fact that records released by the White House comport with the whistleblower’s allegations regarding the Zelensky call.

Republicans outside of a cadre of hardcore Trump loyalists have been reluctant to appear before the television cameras to defend him. The party’s cold feet in that regard have not been helped by two high-profile TV interviews that were widely considered to have gone badly for senior Republicans. 

On an episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sep. 29, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyFox's Wallace: Nadler would pay to have his Clinton impeachment remarks 'expunged from the Earth' McCarthy raises over million in Q4 for House GOP GOP leader warns lawmakers on fundraising: 'Getting our ass kicked' MORE (R-Calif.) incorrectly suggested reporter Scott Pelley had misrepresented a portion of the Trump-Zelensky call. 

An appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday by Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonPerry delegation talking points stressed pushing Ukraine to deal with 'corruption' Overnight Energy: Democrats unveil draft climate bill | Plan aims for carbon neutrality by 2050 | GOP senators press IRS on electric vehicle tax credit Senate Republicans to meet Tuesday afternoon on witness question MORE (R-Wis.) degenerated into a shouting match with anchor Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddTrump rips Chuck Todd for 'softball' Schiff interview GOP senator says impeachment trial will 'hopefully' serve as warning to Trump, future presidents Schiff says Trump tweet is 'intended to be' a threat MORE.

Trump can take heart from the fact that not many Republican officeholders have explicitly broken with him on the Ukraine issue so far. 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP confident of win on witnesses Collins Senate bid threatens to spark GOP rift in Georgia Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight MORE (R-Utah), the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, has been the most prominent Republican critic. He has been on the receiving end of a number of angry Trump tweets in response, including one branding him a “pompous 'ass.'”

But if Republicans are loathe to come out in explicit opposition to the president, any attempts to defend him are complicated because of Trump’s volatile approach and the fear of what else might yet emerge.

Referring to the president’s tendency to react to what he sees on cable news, Judy said, “The administration’s line one day might not be the administration’s line after ‘Hannity’ the same night, much less the next day. So it’s a hard place, a dangerous place, for defenders of the president to be.”

Congressional Republicans have also sometimes founded their defense on different grounds than the president. Last week, after Trump suggested that China should also investigate the Bidens, Rubio argued that the president had not been serious. 

“I don’t know if that’s a real request or him just needling the press,” Rubio told a reporter at a news conference. 

There was no obvious indication that Trump was joking, nor has he himself said he was. Yet Rubio’s description was later echoed by a handful of other Republicans.

On Monday, an unrelated controversy sharpened the tensions between Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill. 

The president’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria just as Turkey was set to begin a military operation in the north of the country was widely derided. Even strong Trump supporters such as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP confident of win on witnesses GOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight MORE (R-S.C.) were critical.

Some voices that remain supportive of the president argue that the media is overhyping the dangers in which he finds himself.

Barry Bennett, who was a senior adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign, said of impeachment: “Half the country sees this as a brazen partisan attack, and the other half of the country is cheering on the brazen partisan attack. I find it very hard to believe there are still undecided people.”

Bennett also argued that there was no immediate sign of a dip in Trump’s overall approval rating in opinion polls — something that he said showed the White House’s pushback had been “effective” so far.

Even Bennett had some reservations, however.

“I would love to see something bigger,” he said. “I would love to see more strategy.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.