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Washington: Under pressure over his possible impeachment, President Richard Nixon supposedly talked to the paintings in the White House.
President Bill Clinton absently toyed with his old campaign buttons. President Donald Trump punches out Twitter messages in the lonely midnight hour.
Long after his staff has gone home, long after the lights have gone out elsewhere around the capital, the besieged 45th president hunkers down in the upstairs residential portion of the Executive Mansion, venting his frustration and cheering on his defenders through social media blasts.
This is a season of conflicting impulses for a president who often seems governed by them.
As the House moves toward what even he says is an inevitable vote to impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump toggles between self-pity and combativeness.
He looks forward to a Senate trial that he seems sure to win and thinks that it will help him on the campaign trail when he travels the country boasting that he had been “exonerated” after the latest partisan “witch hunt.”
Resentment over red mark
But he nurses resentment over the red mark about to be tattooed on his page in the history books as only the third president in American history to be impeached.
No matter what some of his critics say, advisers said he genuinely does not want to be impeached, viewing it as a personal humiliation.
Even in private, he accepts no blame and expresses no regret, but he rails against the enemies he sees all around him.
“He doesn’t like what’s happening,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a vocal ally who has spoken with the president several times this week.
“He thinks it’s unfair. But I think he’s resolved himself that they’re going to do it, they’re out to get him. I think he’s more determined now to win than ever.”
Trump’s mood has actually improved in the past couple of weeks, advisers say, as Republicans have risen to his defense.
He has grown more energized, bombarding followers with tweets and retweets defending himself and attacking his enemies.
He set a record for his presidency Thursday with 113 total tweets in a single day, as of 11:30 p.m., eclipsing the record he had set Sunday with 105, according to Bill Frischling of Factba.se, a service that compiles and analyzes data on Trump’s presidency.
Eighty-seven of the tweets Thursday came from 7 to 10 a.m., just as the House Judiciary Committee was opening its marathon meeting to approve two articles of impeachment.
Trump decided against presenting a defense during a Democratic-run House inquiry he deemed unfair, conceding that a vote to impeach along party lines was inevitable.
Defining test of Trump presidency
For Trump, the impeachment battle has become the defining test of his presidency, weighing him down and charging him up all at once.
Some advisers said the collective burden of three years in office and the nonstop investigations had taken a toll on him.
People who have spent time around him lately said he seemed fatigued and might have gained weight. Some who work in the White House have noticed that he seems more standoffish, less likely to engage in small talk with those outside his inner circle.
Concerns about his health spiked after a mysterious, unannounced weekend trip last month to the hospital.
The White House insisted it was simply a head start on his annual medical checkup, but provided few details about what was done and why. His White House physician climbed into the presidential limousine for the ride to the hospital rather than travel in another vehicle in the motorcade.
How did Nixon and Clinton handle it?
Other presidents facing impeachment strove to hide how much it weighed on them, even as they brooded and raged in private.
Nixon sought to give the impression it had not affected him, but behind the scenes, aides worried about his stability in the last days in the White House. He asked Henry A. Kissinger, his secretary of state, to kneel and pray with him.
“Nixon tried to hold it inside, but not too successfully,” said Evan Thomas, the author of “Being Nixon,” a biography of the president. “Remember ‘the president is not a crook’? And the sweat on his face as he said it?”
Clinton seemed to mentally disappear during meetings as his mind dwelled on the struggle to remain in office.
During a Middle East peace negotiation in Gaza, an aide spied the president scribbling down on his notepad, “Focus on your job. Focus on your job.”
Trump, in his own way, is more transparent. Rather than pretend he is not bothered by the attacks on him, he lashes out at his enemies. Rather than affect a stiff-upper-lip demeanor in public, he fumes about the injustice he feels.
“Trump is incapable of impulse control,” said Douglas B. Sosnik, a senior adviser to Clinton during impeachment.
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