While moves abroad kick up a firestorm, President Trump sought succor at home Tuesday by sparring with Minnesota liberals, flaunting progress at the southern border and doffing his cap to Reagan conservatives in a Medal of Freedom ceremony from the Oval Office.
Washington is consumed by an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine and his sudden decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeast Syria. But Mr. Trump isn’t straying from the cocoon of matters that won him the presidency — a focus on border security, rallies in politically fertile states and the good graces of traditional conservatives.
On Tuesday, he vigorously promoted upcoming campaign rallies in Minnesota and Louisiana, before awarding the nation’s highest civilian honor to Edwin Meese III, a conservative thinker who played a key role in shaping President Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy and tax cut agenda in the 1980s.
“You are a loyal fighter for freedom,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Meese, a former U.S. attorney general, in the White House ceremony.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. border-protection chief credited Mr. Trump with slashing illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border — 52,000 migrants were nabbed in September, down from 140,000 in May.
Capitol Hill Democrats are smelling blood in the water, however, as a White House phone call transcript and texts among diplomats fuel their belief that Mr. Trump committed impeachable offenses in asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.
Democratic leaders say the White House’s refusal to comply with subpoenas will be interpreted as obstruction.
While polls suggest the country is split over impeachment, the White House says Mr. Trump will continue to work on his to-do list, hoping to draw a contrast with Democrats.
“The Do Nothing Democrats can continue with their kangaroo court while the president and his administration keep working on behalf of the American people, delivering on lower drug prices, border security, meaningful solutions to gun violence, USMCA, greater choice in healthcare, infrastructure, and more,” said White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere. “This president is going to continue to build on his record-setting success, and keep fighting for the forgotten men and women of this country.”
Political analysts say it’s no surprise to see Mr. Trump rallying to his bread-and-butter issues.
“He would be best served by sticking to the domestic issues that rally his base and on which he can tout accomplishments. Things like building the wall on the border, record low unemployment, the rise in median income, etc. These are also issues that could attract new voters to his coalition,” said Brian Fraley, owner of Edge Messaging, a political and corporate communications firm in Wisconsin.
Mr. Trump has been defiant as Democrats narrow in, cheering wins on trade and surging job numbers as proof the country is thriving and would miss his leadership.
“Trump’s tax cuts and regulatory reforms have [had] a serious boost to the economy and as long as it continues, he doesn’t need to talk about much else,” said Charlie Gerow, a GOP strategist and vice chairman of the American Conservative Union.
He said Mr. Trump “can’t go wrong” by honoring Mr. Meese, either.
“It’s both a most appropriate honor of a great man and a signal to conservatives for whom Ed Meese is an icon,” said Mr. Gerow.
The buoyant ceremony served as a contrast to the turmoil down Pennsylvania Avenue, where House Democrats castigated the administration for blocking a key witness, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, from speaking to them behind closed doors.
The House GOP accused Democrats of running an unfair impeachment process, while across the Capitol, some Senate Republicans — fearful that Mr. Trump is moving hastily in the Middle East — floated ways to punish Turkey if it attacks American-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria.
Mr. Trump dispatched with those issues early in the day, tweeting he is not abandoning Kurdish fighters in Syria amid pushback to his plan to withdraw troops from the region. He also said he couldn’t let Mr. Sondland, his ambassador to the European Union, speak to Congress because he thinks House Democrats exploring impeachment are running an unfair inquiry.
He pivoted to domestic disputes thereafter, accusing Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey of inflating estimated security costs for his Thursday night rally at the Target Center.
Mr. Trump is keen on winning Minnesota after it eluded his grasp by just 1.5% in 2016.
The president may need more votes in 2020 than he received in 2016, according to Mr. Fraley, who expects the Democratic nominee to run a smarter campaign than Hillary Clinton did.
“President Trump may, however, stick to what has worked for him for the last five years. By stirring the pot, trolling opponents and being unpredictable, it has been harder for the myriad of attacks to stick to him,” he said. “However, that strategy all goes out the window if international hot spots flare up, or if an actual impeachment process turns up actual revelations of wrongdoing.”