If this is the GOP's best Trump defense, they're in serious trouble
The rituals of American politics often require elected officials to say obviously absurd things in public, but not since the height of the Merrick Garland struggle in 2016 has a party twisted itself into a more bizarre spectacle of bad faith and transparently preposterous reasoning than the GOP's pitiful mewling about the impeachment process in the House of Representatives. And while it is understandable why hapless House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his allies have retreated to such an exposed and easily overrun rhetorical citadel, if this is the GOP's strategy for dealing with the still-unfolding Ukraine scandal and with President Trump's obvious criminality, they really are in serious trouble.
For weeks, Republicans have been yelping loudly to anyone who will listen that the Democrats are holding secret, "Soviet-style” hearings and railroading their "great president" in a process they are calling a "coup." To pick one example among a thousand, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise claimed this week that, "That might be what they do in the Soviet Union, not the United States of America. We can't stand for this, the American people are being denied equal justice.” You would think that someone who recently got shot and nearly killed by a deranged fanatic might be reticent to compare Democrats to one of the 20th century's paramount villains, but you would be very wrong. He delivered these remarks, no joke, in front of a placard that read "37 days of Soviet-style impeachment proceedings,” replete with a hammer and sickle and a large rendering of the Kremlin.
Subtlety is not a specialty of the modern Republican Party.
Who is the intended audience for this kind of laughable tripe? Republican voters wavering in their support of the president are presumably both literate and aware that the Soviet Union lacked an elected legislature as well as the ability to remove a corrupt executive through powers that are spelled out plainly and unambiguously in a document representing the legally binding political order. Those without this rudimentary knowledge already tell pollsters that there is nothing President Trump could ever do to lose their support.
Cornered Republicans are rolling with a modified Red Scare strategy because they have no other real way to explain the president's behavior. They first put themselves in a narrative bind when they accepted Attorney General Bill Barr's cooked Mueller Report reading of "no collusion, no obstruction,” because the whole defense rested on both a willful misreading of the document itself and a tacit admission that if there was ever any fresh evidence of election-related "collusion" with a foreign power that this would be bad and condemnable and a problem of sorts.
They made a big bet that the president wouldn't be stupid and churlish enough to go out, basically the next day, and do it again, this time preserving his crimes in rough transcripts and text messages. That bet met the same fate as all wagers on Donald Trump, with the dealer raking your chips away as you stare dolefully into your half-guzzled gin-and-tonic and wonder how you're going to pay the tolls on the way home.
So here they are, and more than a month into this scandal, they have not found or settled on a single coherent line of defense for what transpired, focusing instead on procedural critiques or how it's too close to an election to impeach the president, or concern-trolling moderate Democratic members of the House, strategies that have comprehensively failed to turn a majority of the American people against the inquiry itself. No one thinks these Republicans care about process, and not even Matt Gaetz believes Republicans will retake the House next year.
President Trump, in all likelihood, will not be removed from office by the Senate. But they won't find many takers beyond Lindsey Graham for a defense that consists of shouting "READ THE TRANSCRIPT!" on Twitter, and at some point complaining about House procedures will seem like a non-sequitur even to the diehards. Sooner or later, Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Joni Ernst and other vulnerable incumbents will have to cast their vote for or against the president and then explain it. They will have read the transcript.
What will they say, after months of credible witnesses putting their lives and careers on the line to confirm what everyone can see with their own two eyes? That the president ran a sordid little extortion scheme through his senescent lawyer with the goal of having Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky announce an investigation into leading Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter? That's it's wrong and possibly illegal but not worthy of removal? Gross and disqualifying but not a high crime? How do you go out and tell people to vote for a guy you just told reporters did something "deeply troubling" and "wrong" or "profoundly problematic" or whatever scolding-but-exonerating language they will settle on? How do you let that guy campaign for you? Remember: No one had to help Bill Clinton run for re-election. It would have been awkward.
Collins might be craven, but she is not stupid. In her heart she knows that the president, the leader of her party, is an insipid, talentless ghoul who has thrown away the strongest economy in two generations chasing down nonsensical conspiracy theories, allowing people too crooked to operate a payday lending storefront to plunge the government into an endless series of crises and self-inflicted catastrophes and turning every bitter old pensioner in the country into a frothing cesspool of rage, denial, and paranoia bent on driving stakes through the hearts of their own grandchildren because they can't stand the thought of saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.
She knows this man has transformed her beloved GOP from a ruthless, well-maintained, and quite effective luxury vehicle for the preservation and expansion of inherited white wealth and power into a Chevette full of goons and hit men and hacks, and that they are hydroplaning uncontrollably and taking everyone associated with them along for the most needlessly dangerous ride of their lives.
I have no idea why Collins, a woman who is pushing 70 and has had one of the most prestigious and easiest jobs in the world for nearly a quarter century, feels the need to run for re-election at all under the humiliating banner of this man and his fallen party, let alone to mortgage what remains of her reputation to acquit him of the crimes he is obviously committing. But she'll probably do it. The key for her chances at re-election in 2020, and at her party's odds of holding the Senate or the presidency, is whether she can come up with a minimally convincing explanation of her vote.
She and Cocaine Mitch and Lyin' Ted and Little Marco need to lock themselves into a secure room somewhere and come up with something better than what they've shown so far. Because the only Soviet-style thing happening in American politics right now is the GOP's total inability to see that the end of the Trump regime is much, much closer than it appears.