Republicans: Searching for a Trump defense
Republicans’ impeachment defenses of President Trump keep changing—and “keep crumbling,” said Philip Rotner in TheBulkwark.com. Every time they seem to settle on one explanation of why the president couldn’t possibly have bribed or extorted Ukraine into investigating a political rival, new testimony from the House Intelligence Committee blows it up, so they simply “shift to a new one.” Remember when Republicans insisted all the evidence of a quid pro quo was “hearsay”? That’s “dead.” How about the claim that Trump was sincerely interested in an investigation of Ukrainian corruption? Dead, too, after a parade of distinguished U.S. diplomats testified that Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, specifically targeted Joe Biden and his son Hunter and cared about nothing else. The GOP then fell back on the “no harm, no foul” defense—that since Trump ultimately released the aid, there was no extortion or bribery. The flaw in that one is that Congress forced Trump to release the aid after both parties became aware of the whistleblower report about his arm-twisting call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Attempted extortion is still a crime. This week, after Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s devastating testimony, the GOP was left with the “last stand” defense of “OK, he did it, but it’s not impeachable.” Republicans know the facts are against them, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com, so they have decided “to create a scene” at the hearings, hoping that if they “scream and stomp their feet enough,” voters may conclude it’s just one big partisan circus.
It’s about time Republicans fought, said Adam Brandon in WashingtonExaminer.com. Democrats have been itching to impeach Trump since he took office, and in these hearings Republicans like Rep. Devin Nunes “grew a backbone” and “challenged the Left’s narrative not only on the facts but the process as well.” Remember, this is war, and the GOP needs people unafraid to “fight back.” Trump’s fate should be decided in 2020, anyway, said Whit Ayres in The Wall Street Journal. This close to the election, it makes far more sense to allow voters to “render their verdict on the Trump presidency” rather than stage “an incredibly divisive” impeachment trial in the Senate, where Republicans will likely acquit Trump anyway.
That defense smacks of real desperation, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, but my favorite one is that Trump is “too dumb to commit an impeachable offense.” Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro is a leading proponent, saying, “I don’t see objectively that Trump has had the level of intent necessary to do anything.” Really? Even a mobster with “little or no capacity for abstract reasoning” would have the primitive instincts necessary to demand that a third party sabotage his chief rival. The scariest claim in the GOP’s “cavalcade of defenses,” said Matt Ford in NewRepublic.com, is that the president “can’t abuse his powers, no matter how he exercises them.” This flows from Attorney General Bill Barr’s “unitary executive” theory, which holds that whatever the president does with his executive powers is inherently legal. With this defense, Republicans “are effectively arguing for an elective monarchy.”
If Republicans acquit Trump in the Senate after he’s impeached, said Robert Kagan in The Washington Post, they will set a precedent they may soon regret: “There should be no consequences of any kind if a president works with foreign governments to find damaging information about political opponents.” China, Russia, North Korea, and other foreign adversaries will be delighted, Democrats may feel they have no choice but to play the same dirty game—and “the floodgates” will open. ■