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Opinions | The new GOP strategy: Don’t believe the president

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/7/2019 James Downie
a man wearing a costume: President Trump speaks to the press before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 4. © Tom Brenner/For The Washington Post President Trump speaks to the press before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 4.

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You knew there was never going to be just one whistleblower. A president who stands on the White House lawn and asks foreign countries to investigate his political opponents was never going to otherwise keep such schemes to a small circle of loyalists. And so it has come to pass. ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos revealed Sunday morning, “ABC News has learned that the legal team representing the first whistleblower is now representing a second whistleblower. Attorney Mark Zaid told me that this second whistleblower is a member of the intelligence community with firsthand information on some of the allegations at issue.”

Confronted with that new information on the various Sunday morning talk shows, Republican congressmen and senators largely opted for the same mix of misinformation and non-answers that they’ve been stuck with even as poll after poll shows support for an impeachment inquiry rising. In one area, though, a new talking point has emerged: Don’t believe the president.

This goes back to the president’s appearance on the South Lawn on Oct. 3, when Trump asked China to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter. There’s no way to defend a president publicly asking a geopolitical rival to investigate domestic political rivals, so Republicans have decided to pretend he didn’t do that. The first up was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): “I don’t think it’s a real request,” he told reporters Friday morning, “I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it.” Republicans on the Sunday shows followed suit. “I doubt if the China comment was serious, to tell you the truth,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) on CBS’s “Face the Nation." On ABC, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) feigned incredulity: “George, you really think he was serious about thinking that China’s going to investigate the Biden family?”

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It isn’t the first time that Republicans, confronted with a controversial Trump quote, have said the president wasn’t being serious. Trump even told special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that his infamous request to Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails was a joke. That Capitol Hill Republicans would go back to this well is no surprise; it’s an easy dodge when, according to The Post’s Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, GOP lawmakers and aides say privately that their “collective strategy is simply to survive and not make any sudden moves.”

The difference this time is that the president himself isn’t claiming that he was joking, not in any of his numerous Twitter missives since that South Lawn appearance. Instead, he laid into criticism from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) about his request to China. And Sunday afternoon he said on Twitter that he would “would LOVE running" against Biden.

Not only wasn’t Trump joking about asking China to investigate Biden, he isn’t pretending that he was. In other words, Republican politicians don’t want you to believe the president.

One reason Trump fit in so well with the GOP and especially its Fox News propaganda arm is that he and those around him have made livings telling people not to believe their own eyes. Years of “Trump’s a brilliant businessman, not a bumbling heir with multiple bankruptcies” easily transitioned to “Mexico will pay for the wall, not taxpayers.” But the narrative of “right good, left bad” was always bigger than one person, even one as influential as the president. Now, that narrative demands a new reality: “Don’t believe Trump even when he’s telling you to believe him.” The myth has swallowed Trump himself.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Sunday wrap: Republicans’ pathetic excuses get shot down

Paul Waldman: A guide to the GOP’s increasingly pathetic defenses of Trump

Max Boot: The GOP’s choice: Betray Trump or betray the country?

Kathleen Parker: Trump’s ‘favor’ may not seem worse than Biden’s threat. But there’s a difference.

Megan McArdle: One day, the Trump superpower of his shameless self-regard may fail him

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