Even some of his loyal defenders are unsure whether to applaud or condemn his sheer brazenness. 


“On the one hand, I’m like: ‘That’s brilliant. That’s really effective,’ ” said a former White House aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment of the president. “And on the other hand, I’m like . . . ‘Do the ends always justify the means?’ I’m very conflicted about it.” 


Now, facing one of the biggest political fights of his presidency, Trump is deploying the same battle plan. 


After a July phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for “a favor” to help dig up dirt on possible 2020 political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, the president found himself facing an impeachment inquiry into whether he was attempting to use a foreign power to improperly influence the election.


And so on Tuesday, the White House counsel released a letter to congressional Democrats effectively accusing them of the same misdeed — trying to improperly influence the 2020 presidential contest. 


“Many Democrats now apparently view impeachment not only as a means to undo the democratic results of the last election, but as a strategy to influence the next election, which is barely more than a year away,” the letter read.


The president has publicly called for China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, and on Wednesday, he and his campaign used Twitter and a TV ad to suggest with scant evidence that it is the Bidens, not him, who are guilty of wrongdoing.


Going back a bit further, Trump has frequently cast doubt on the assessment of his own intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential elections with the goal of helping elect him president. But now, he is turning the charge back on his political foes, espousing an unfounded conspiracy theory that a foreign government did interfere in the 2016 contest — but that it was Ukraine, with the goal of helping Democrats. 


“President Trump is a better counterpuncher than Floyd Mayweather, and it starts with his ability to turn a perceived weakness into a position of strength,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign. “It’s unorthodox, it confuses political opponents, and it works.” 


Many of the allegations against the president boil down to the notion that he is abusing his power — another charge Trump regularly lobs at Democrats.


He has, for instance, repeatedly accused Democrats of “obstruction,” even while actively stonewalling two congressional investigations himself: The first a congressional inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election and now the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. 


And standing accused of overstepping the bounds of his executive authority, Trump on Wednesday took to Twitter to make clear that he believes former president Barack Obama is guilty of the same abuse. 


“President Obama said that he did not have the right to sign DACA, that it will never hold up in court,” Trump tweeted, an apparent reference to the Supreme Court’s plans this term to take up the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants, known as “dreamers,” to remain in the country without the threat of deportation.


“If the Supreme Court upholds DACA, it gives the President extraordinary powers, far greater than ever thought,” he continued. 


Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser in the Obama White House and a co-host of the “Pod Save America” podcast, said Trump and his allies are operating under a philosophy of “whataboutism” — deflecting from his flaws and problems by trying to accuse his opponents of similar misdeeds. 


“Trump’s strategy is based on the idea that down deep, he is never going to be able to convince people he’s good, but he might be able to convince people that everyone is as bad as he is,” Pfeiffer said. “Trump’s lies and Trump’s conduct are indefensible, so they don’t try to defend it — they just try to say everyone else is more like Trump than you think.”


The sheer shamelessness of this approach leads to a type of asymmetrical warfare that is tough to counterprogram, he added.


“This,” Pfeiffer said, “keeps Democrats up at night.”