An Offensive Defense

I object, your honor! This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.

How are Senate Republicans supposed to defend their impeachment vote?
By Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Jan. 22, 2020

Senate Republicans sitting through hours of patient, careful arguments from House managers and the unhinged and false claims from President Trump’s lawyers should think about how they will explain to voters their anticipated acquittal in the impeachment trial of President Trump. For those on the ballot in November in states with competitive Senate races (North Carolina, Maine, Colorado, Iowa, Arizona, Georgia), it will do them no good to repeat the rants they hear from Trump’s lawyers. (The House was unfair! Democrats denied him due process!)

Voters with a passing familiarity with the facts and the coverup (Trump’s and the Senate’s) will ask some pesky questions:

  • Senator, Republicans keep saying Trump couldn’t be impeached unless charged with a crime, but didn’t Republicans’ own expert lawyer, Jonathan Turley, say that was wrong? (“While I believe that articles of impeachment are ideally based on well-defined criminal conduct, I do not believe that the criminal code is the effective limit or scope of possible impeachable offenses.”)
  • Senator, can you really ask a foreign country to come up with dirt on a domestic rival? What if your opponent tried that in your election?
  • Why wouldn’t you allow witnesses and documents? How can that even be called a trial?
  • Senator, do you believe President Trump (who has kept his business going, steered business to his properties, allowed his children’s conflicts of interests to persist, indicated interest in repealing anti-bribery laws, hobnobbed with corrupt oligarchs) was just trying to root out corruption in Ukraine? Why did he only mention Burisma and the Bidens in his call with Ukraine’s president?
  • Holding back aid to Ukraine broke the law, according to an independent government agency. Why did you think this was no big deal?
  • Did the president do something wrong in holding up aid to Ukraine until he got political help from a foreign government? Should we just “get over it”?
  • Why was the “ask” from Ukraine an announcement of an investigation and not a real investigation? If the president thought something was wrong, why did he not go straight to the FBI?

You see, Trump’s attorneys can blather all they like, knowing the right-wing media will treat their nonsense as a legitimate defense. Republican senators can pretend to be persuaded and vote to acquit. But then what happens when the senators themselves are asked about the crackpot arguments and defenses by voters outside the Trump cult, by local media and by their opponents in debates?

It is hard to imagine Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) saying with a straight face that abuse of power is not impeachable. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) will find it mighty uncomfortable to insist to independent voters in Colorado that it is fine to extort a foreign country to force it to announce it was investigating an American. Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) will likely get grilled in a debate (unless she runs away from those) about why she refused even to hear from key witnesses. How does she explain a trial with no witnesses?

In sum, the “nothing matters, just lie” mode of politics only applies within the Trump cult. As soon as you leave the bubble to encounter voters, the media or opponents who know better, your talking points make you sound dumb or corrupt or both.

That is what Republicans should contemplate: How the heck am I going to defend this to the people back home? Trump’s attorneys are giving them no fig leaves or explanations that can pass the laugh test.