Republicans’ impeachment strategy seems a tribute to Jackson Pollock
Maybe you’re a fan of Jackson Pollock’s paint-splatter stuff. That’s cool. My only point is that when you flick paint at a canvas, nobody expects the result to look like a tree, a person or a bowl of fruit.
Similarly, in politics, when you throw everything against the wall to see what will stick, the result probably won’t be pretty, and it definitely won’t paint a coherent picture. This is both the stupidity and the genius of the Republican defense of President Trump in the impeachment inquiry.
First, the stupidity. Here are just a few examples.
Trump’s defense hinges on the idea that he was deeply concerned about “corruption” in Ukraine. During Wednesday’s hearing, Republicans insisted that corruption was Trump’s only concern in halting vital military aid.
“We’re talking Ukraine … one of the three most corrupt countries on the planet,” lead GOP pit bull Jim Jordan said. (As far as I can tell, that’s a made-up statistic: Ukraine doesn’t appear on any of the top-10 lists of corrupt countries.) “Corruption is not just prevalent in Ukraine — it’s the system!”
Republicans hammered the fact that U.S. law requires government certification that aid will be spent for its intended purpose. Sounds legit, right?
The only problem: The required certification had already been provided. Moreover, when Trump released the aid, nothing had changed in Ukraine with regard to corruption.
What changed was that the White House got word that the scheme had leaked out.
Still, if corruption is such a big worry, why did Trump send aid to a country that hadn’t done anything to alleviate Trump’s concerns? If you read all of the relevant transcripts, “corruption” is simply code for “serve me Joe Biden’s head on a platter.”
Indeed, as Slate’s Will Saletan notes, the strategy is to deny that Trump used “corruption” as an excuse to smear a political opponent by continually smearing his political opponent as corrupt.
Another popular talking point is to prattle on about “hearsay.” None of the witnesses so far had much firsthand information about what Trump was up to, even as Republicans insist that the people with firsthand information must not testify.
Last month, Jordan and others claimed the whistleblower’s allegations (most of them subsequently corroborated) don’t matter because he was just going by office gossip, but now they say he’s a key witness, “the guy who started it all,” in Jordan’s words.
There’s something hilarious about people defending a president who routinely makes up smears and innuendo by claiming “people are saying” or “a reliable source” told him entirely fictional allegations. (This was Trump’s go-to tactic in his birther allegations against Barack Obama.)
Some Trump defenders say that the inquiry is both a pathetic, trivial nothingburger and a Constitution-shredding “coup” that will destroy democracy. Which is it?
And by the way, the dictionary definition of “coup” is the violent or extralegal overthrow of a government. How a constitutionally prescribed procedure (that will almost surely fail in the Senate) qualifies as a coup is a mystery. Even dumber: If this “coup” were successful, the president of the United States would be … Mike Pence. What kind of coup leaves the regime and the second-in-command in place?
It’s all so embarrassing.
That brings us to the genius of it all. The goal isn’t to offer serious arguments or rebuttals; it’s to create a scene. The GOP is acting like a boyfriend or girlfriend who thinks that if they just scream and stomp their feet enough in a public place, they won’t get dumped. That was the point of the “march” on the secure hearing room a few weeks ago. That’s the underlying strategy of calling this a “show trial” and a “coup.”
That’s why Sen. Lindsey Graham says the effort is so unserious that he won’t read any of the transcripts of testimony, yet he continually offers rebuttals to charges he says he’s not interested in understanding.
And it will probably work. The Democrats deserve their share of blame. They’ve spent the last few years throwing everything they could at the wall, too, simultaneously arguing that Trump was a criminal mastermind and a staggering idiot. Now that the facts are on their side, they’re outraged no one will take them seriously.
If one side of the cafeteria throws everything at the far wall and the other side does the same thing in the other direction, no one should be surprised if spectators see it as a food fight they want no part of.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch.