The Atlantic Politics Daily: The Limits of Trump’s Go-To Defense

As impeachment continues, the president’s strategy of villainizing opponents is getting harder—there may simply be too many to choose from. Plus, Fox and facts.

It’s Thursday, November 14. In today’s newsletter: On Trump’s defense strategy of villainizing, how Fox News covered the impeachment hearings, an argument for calling on Hunter Biden to testify, and more.

We’re also following: Two teens were killed and three others wounded in a shooting at a southern California high school on Thursday morning. The former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testifies Friday as a sole witness in the second day of public impeachment hearings.



The view from inside the Oval Office

With the latest drip-drip-drip of impeachment revelations this week, what was once a remote possibility now seems closer to an inevitability: The House of Representatives will vote to impeach President Trump.

What do ongoing impeachment proceedings look like from within 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? My colleague Peter Nicholas, one of our White House correspondents, has been reporting on that question over the past several weeks.

As he writes, one of Trump’s favorite defensive tactics—creating villains out of opponents—is no longer working: “There may be too many accusers who believe he shook down Ukraine, too many people who find fault with his behavior for the president to smack with a rhetorical mallet.”

Here’s just some of what people with a window into the 45th president’s temperament of late have told Peter:

“He’d rather be tearing the head off a rooster than putting caviar on a cracker.”
A former senior White House official

“He’s not nature’s best diplomat. He doesn’t use a scalpel; he uses a meat ax.”
A Republican senator

“These heavy issues are weighing on him. He has nobody around him. There’s nobody.”
A person close to Trump

“What he’s done is conflated himself with America. He’s physically hugged the flag, but he’s also done that in his mind. If you attack him, you’re attacking America. You’re unpatriotic. ‘It’s very bad for our country!’”
Seth Norrholm, a neuroscientist who studies stress, anxiety, and trauma


Reactions to the impeachment hearings stuck to an expected pattern. How did Fox News, still by all accounts the president’s favorite TV network, cover them?

MSNBC, too, had a bias in its coverage…. But Fox had much more than a slant; in Trump, effectively, it had an author.

Read Megan Garber’s full essay.

Speaking of Fox News: Ron Brownstein explores the factors that have so solidified Trump’s GOP support.

1. “Many Republicans now say they trust information only from deeply conservative media sources.”

2. It’s a feedback loop: “GOP voters have also remained unified behind Trump because so few elected Republicans have publicly condemned him.”

3. Enough ardent Trump supporters fear the “demographic, cultural, and economic changes remaking America” to cling to the president.

Read Ron’s full analysis.

Meanwhile, Democrats could clear some of the GOP’s smokescreen by simply calling Hunter Biden in to testify, David Graham argues.

House Democrats are in a hurry to complete their inquiry, and calling minority witnesses would slow the process down. But calling them might offer crucial clarity to the public on some disputed issues, and neuter Republican charges of unfairness.

Read David’s full argument.



October was a devastating month for America’s Kurdish partners in Syria, and an alarming one for other American allies, who got a real-time glimpse into what America-first foreign policy looks like in practice:

Given all the fallout among Trump’s allies, both foreign and domestic, not to mention his detractors, and the impact of the U.S. government’s policy zigzagging in Syria these past weeks, Trump’s green-light moment will haunt him and the U.S. for a long time to come, like Obama’s red-line moment still looms large over his presidency.

Read Uri Friedman’s full story.


The United States has traditionally styled itself as a force for stability in the world, but this New York Times dispatch from Kyiv shows the extent to which a politically dysfunctional America now looks like a source of instability overseas. French President Emmanuel Macron made a similar point in a recent interview with The Economist, arguing that Europe needs to provide for its own defense.
Uri Friedman, a staff writer on our national-security team

For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot, this week, about the Watergate hearings of the mid-1970s. And while it’s possible to watch those hearings pretty much as they aired on the TV sets of the time, it’s a tad quicker to read the critic James Poniewozik’s incisive essay looking back at the hearings as a cultural phenomenon.
Megan Garber, a staff writer on our Culture desk


The former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is running for president, announcing his candidacy less than a year from the actual election.

There’s some precedent: Bill Clinton entered the race in October of 1991 and won 13 months later. But Patrick’s entry is “astonishingly late for contemporary presidential campaigns,” David Graham writes.


The Atlantic has a new look. Read our editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg’s conversation with our creative director, Peter Mendelsund, about the new design.

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Today’s edition of our daily newsletter of political ideas and arguments was written by Saahil Desai and Christian Paz, and edited by Shan Wang.

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