Washington (CNN)Donald Trump has, throughout his life, had one setting when it comes to stories he doesn’t like: Attack, pivot, declare victory.
From his rise in Manhattan social circles to his career as a real estate developer to his time as a reality TV star, he’s always employed these same basic tactics. If someone writes or says something Trump doesn’t like, he either threatens to or actually sues while simultaneously pushing out a counter-narrative aimed at discrediting the initial report and turning the story toward more favorable ground for him.
Everything is to be treated as a tabloid story that can be shaped, changed, rebutted, knocked down and torn apart though force of will — and words.
It’s worked remarkably well for Trump. And so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he’s brought that blueprint to Washington with him.
Except that the White House — and the political and legal worlds it touches — isn’t the same thing that Trump is used to facing. Not at all. The rules governing this world aren’t the rules of the tabloids of New York City media. Bob Mueller isn’t some “Page Six” reporter.
Trump doesn’t seem to have even the slightest understanding of that distinction. His twin tweets Thursday morning make that point better than I ever could.
“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Trump tweeted at 6:55 a.m. ET. He quickly followed that tweet with this one: “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA”
This isn’t the first time that Trump has employed such over-the-top rhetoric to describe the special counsel investigation being led by Mueller, a former FBI director. On May 18, Trump tweeted something very similar to what he said this morning: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Trump wrote.
This is standard-issue stuff in the Trump playbook. When attacked, attack back — harder. Go after the story in big, broad ways — “total hoax” is one way Trump has described the federal investigation — and assume that the average person won’t consume enough details or follow it closely enough to see whether you’re right or wrong.
But this investigation isn’t anything like what Trump has faced before. He can’t simply say this is all a “witch hunt” or a “hoax” and have it disappear. Short of firing Mueller, which seems to me incredibly unlikely — particularly after the leak of the obstruction investigation — Trump can’t stop it. The investigation will proceed no matter what Trump says about it or who involved in it he calls names. It will also, eventually, reach some conclusions about the nature of Russia’s hacking of the election and whether or not there was any collusion in that effort by any member of the Trump campaign.
That train has already left the station. And Trump’s ability to derail it is decidedly limited.
That doesn’t mean Trump’s use of his tried and true “attack, pivot, declare victory” strategy against Mueller and the special counsel investigation won’t have any impact.
The more Trump casts the investigation as biased and unfairly targeted at him, the more his supporters will believe that it is. Which means that if Trump either fires Mueller — again, that is so hard to imagine — or works to discredit the final conclusions of the special counsel, there will be a ready bloc of his supporters eager to adopt and spread that message.
“I told you this whole special counsel was a witch hunt,” you can imagine Trump saying to nods from his supporters. “Of course they concluded I was in the wrong. They had decided that before they even started investigating. We need to drain the swamp and make America great again.”
That line will work with his supporters. But it won’t change the underlying facts Mueller unearths — and the reverberations they could cause among everyone outside of Trump’s most loyal backers.
Trump is a blunt instrument. He knows one way of doing things. And that way has always worked for him. But this investigation is both more serious than anything Trump has faced before.
Almost everyone grasps that. Everyone except Donald John Trump, that is.