“NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG!” Some Thoughts for the Cocktail Hour

Franklin Graham

As the Very, Very Reverend Franklin Graham calls down the wrath of God on the Democrats, we have it on good authority that President Pence is looking better and better out in Sioux City, Iowa.

May it be so. World without end. Amen.

Meanwhile, Trump, calling on some primal resource deep within his lizard brain, has intuited that if his alternate reality begins to slip from the minds of his cult followers, he is royally screwed, blued, and tattooed. Hence the NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG! tweet.

Nothing Wrong Tweet

As I reported earlier today, the Wall Street Journal has gently hinted to its plutocratic readers that this may not be the world’s best idea—for the said plutocratic leaders and for the empty suited politicians who represent them.

But Trump, it is said, has a mystical connection with the minds of the uneducated white folk of the heartland. So I think I’m goin’ with The Donald on this one: yep, let the alternative reality fade from their simple minds, and it’s all over for the Trumpeter.

I don’t know whether that’s right. But hallelujah, may it be so. World without end. Amen.

I want to share Daily Kos’ take on the matter. You will learn nothing new from it. But it is  the cocktail hour right now, out on the Right Coast.

Daily Kos writes,

The idiot in chief was at it again, on Sunday, this time apparently responding to Republicans who have been attempting to both-sides their way through impeachment questions by muttering, to the press, that Donald Trump was wrong to extort Ukraine into opening “investigations” of his political foes but that it wasn’t so bad as to amount to an impeachable offense.

That was never, ever going to fly with Donald Trump, because Donald Trump is a (say it with me, now) malignant narcissist. He is mentally ill. He genuinely believes he is perfect, his actions are perfect, he is the bestest phone-talker in the history of phone talking and he will get VERY DAMN MAD AT YOU if you suggest otherwise.

Republican lawmakers may think their best path for dodging responsibility to an exposed high crime, of the explicitly mentioned-in-the-Constitution variety, is to very lightly rap Trump on the shoulders while declaring that well, the Constitutional edict against doing crimes is more of a suggestion, really, but Trump has no intention of allowing that to happen. One does not criticize Dear Leader by suggesting that he has done something wrong. One praises Dear Leader for his perfection, and if you can’t handle that, Trump’s tone suggests, you may end up on Dear Leader’s enemies list no matter how you vote on impeachment itself.

That puts Republicans, especially Senate Republicans, in a bind. Anyone who does not want to look like a frothing authoritarian-minded nut (sit down, Lindsey) has to acknowledge that no, it is not “perfect” to withhold military aid from an ally as means of pressuring them into supporting an election-related conspiracy theory that your personal “lawyer” friend cooked up to smear your next possible election opponent.

From that uncontroversial real-world perch, Republican senators think perhaps they can rappel down briefly to crackpot crazytown base-land with declarations that it is still not quite corrupt enough to actually do anything about. Spilled milk and all; oh well, chalk this one up to Trump just not knowing which crimes are crimes.

That would allow them to avoid collapsing entirely into the Dear Leaderism of the Jim Jordans and Devin Nuneses, so that they themselves do not look mind-bogglingly corrupt, while still avoiding all-but-certain primary challenges from Republicans who dothink Dear Leader ought to be able to commit any damn crime he wants to. It’s what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, perhaps, intends as the Senate’s escape hatch now that a dozen different witnesses have testified that Trump and allies without question carried out the extortion effort, over the course of many months; the previous Republican stance that Trump did nothing wrong is now impossible to plausibly argue, so arguing that Trump’s corrupt act was not a presidential dealbreaker is the current line of retreat.

But Trump isn’t having it. Dear Leader is perfect, by God, and not one of you will be getting out of this by meekly claiming otherwise.

I think it’s time for a drink. Not only to accompany the wit and wisdom of Daily Kos, but also because my Russian readership is steadily growing, and I’m a little concerned.

Theme and Variations on the Challenges of Defending Baron Munchausen Against the Charge of Prevarication

Bank Robber

Politico on Pros and Cons of Creating an Alternate Reality.

Politico, the house organ of the Republican pols, reports that Trump’s bluster crashes into a barrage of impeachment facts. The gist is that Trump is really good at creating an alternate reality for his cult followers, but Republican politicians—however subservient they might wish to be—are faced with living in the real world, not the alternate reality.

I like the article’s teaser on Politico’s current home page: “[Trump] doesn’t argue well when there is an obvious fact pattern at play.”

The Wall Street Journal Points to, Umm, “Challenges”

WSJ, GOP Divided on Defense of Trump Over Ukraine: Divergence shows party’s challenges to mount a unified front ahead of public impeachment hearings this week

The paper identifies the nature of the “challenge,” which would be Trump’s demand that all the Republican politicians join him in Alternaterealityland:

“Republicans, don’t be led into the fools trap of saying it wasn’t perfect, but is not impeachable,” Mr. Trump said Sunday in a tweet. “NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG!”

Most of them know they can’t do that. But they cannot agree with one another on what lies to tell.

Some Help with the Articles of Impeachment

Meanwhile, two writers for the New Republic helpfully draft articles of impeachment.

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My Russian readership has held steady for the last several days. I hope the KGB is enjoying the blog.

Bride of Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla-and-Charybdis

Bruce Gyory (“a Democratic political strategist and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY-Albany”) lays it all out in Where Does Trump Really Stand with Voters, One Year Out? Here’s what we can tell from polling on impeachment, the economy, and the president’s approval rating.

He argues essentially the same thesis I have advanced, though he has lots more data and analytical nuance. Gyori writes,

So the lesson congressional Republicans learned from 2010-2016—namely that if they could just avoid hard-right primaries, first from Tea Party candidates and then from Trump supporters, they could hold on in a general election—has reached a cul-de-sac (to use an appropriately suburban metaphor). Congressional Republicans who choose to oppose Trump will still risk defeat in a primary. But the polling data increasingly suggests that if they embrace Trump, that will prove fatal in a general election. Extracting themselves from that trap will be all but impossible outside ruby-red districts and states.

Trump’s Impeachment “Defense”: A Trial Balloon

slashed balloon

In previous posts I outlined the Deny the Undeniable Defense, the Explain the Inexplicable Defense, the the Defend the Indefensible Defense, the Just Get Over It Defense. Actually, there is probably a fifth alternative: the Nancy Reagan Defense—Just Say No to impeachment and removal and don’t say a word more.

Right now the trial balloon is Explain the Inexplicable: admit that Ukraine was extorted, but “explain” that it wasn’t Trump doin’ the extortin’ but rather a confederacy of dunces claiming to speak in his name. This argument necessitates the defenestration of the said dunces.

Here is how matters appear to stand as of this afternoon.

  1. It has been clear for quite a while—and it remains true today—that all Trump’s options are bad, but his least bad option is to throw Mulvaney and Giuliani under the bus.
  2. Because of a variety of mental infirmities, Trump cannot grasp point one.
  3. So the House Freedom Caucus has decided to throw Mulvaney and Giuliani under the bus, on Trump’s behalf, claiming that Mulvaney and Giuliani, not Trump, were responsible for withholding military aid to Ukraine.
  4. One problem with the defense is that it isn’t true.
  5. A second problem with the defense is that its intended beneficiary—Donald J. Trump—will probably not go alone with it.
  6. A third problem is that the Designated Fall Guys will probably not take the fall. Because, among other things, taking the fall would probably expose them to criminal liability. Not to mention that their names will live in infamy.

Hence, Giuliani has lawyered up. And Mulvaney has lawyered up.

And Mulvaney has now asked to join a lawsuit names Donald J. Trump as a defendant, seeking a federal district court’s direction on whether Mulvaney should obey Trump or comply with the House subpoena for his testimony. The New York Times finds the latter development both anomalous and ironic, and spends a goodly number of paragraphs today, sucking its journalistic thumb over these goings on.

One plausible explanation for Mulvaney suing Trump is that it’s part of a well-thought out Machiavellian legal maneuver. Deep within the article, the Times writes,

A lawyer for Mr. Mulvaney alerted the White House Counsel’s Office about the pending filing, and the office raised no objections, according to a person close to Mr. Mulvaney. Some observers said Mr. Mulvaney’s goal may be not to oppose Mr. Trump, but to help him, as well as himself: In signaling that he would like the courts to decide whom he should side with, he is turning the decision over to a legal process that may continue well beyond the Democrats’ impeachment time frame.

One could elaborate on this theory, but I’m not going to do it.

The Times seems to think the more likely explanation is that Mulvaney has hired a real lawyer; that said real lawyer has advised his client that he’s in danger of taking a bullet for Trump; that the lawyer has counseled Mulvaney on some steps he needs to take to protect himself; and that Mulvaney is taking the advice.

That’s what I would guess, too.

Please, O Please, Republicans, Pretty Please with Sugar on Top, Keep Making This Argument

Bowling Pin Mystery

Late yesterday afternoon, Politico posted an article on The unsolved mystery of frozen Ukraine aid. The article’s premise is that the Democrats’ impeachment case is woefully incomplete because, so far least, no one has testified that they, themselves, heard Trump order a halt to Ukraine military aid.

Give me a break. Just give me a bloody break.

It is uncontested that Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s Acting Chief of Staff, ordered the stiffarming of Ukraine. It’s uncontested the Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s shyster, was heavily involved in the episode.

Either Mick and Rudy were acting in concert with Trump or they were not acting in concert with Trump.

Every single scrap of available evidence indicates they were  acting in concert with Trump.

And Trump has moved heaven and earth to block any other evidence that would bear on the matter.

Please, O Please, Republicans, Keep Arguing “There’s No Direct Evidence of Trump’s Involvement”

Pretty please with sugar on top.

The no-direct-evidence argument aligns exactly with the argument made by the man who killed his parents and pleaded for mercy as an orphan. There’s “no direct evidence” because Trump is bloody well hiding the direct evidence.

Anyone who thinks it’s a deep mystery who ordered the Ukraine military aid halt is stupider than the inspector in the cartoon who was mystified by the nature of the murder weapon.

Anyone except the willfully blind can see through the argument in a New York minute.

It’s the kind of asinine argument that diminishes your manhood by ten percent every time you say it.

Strenuous denial of Trump’s involvement tends to imply that proof of Trump’s involvement would be proof of an impeachable offense.

So thank you very much.

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Uh, oh. The Russian readers are back. I’m warning security here at Happy Acres.

Between Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla

Been sayin’ it for some time now. Finally found a pundit who makes the same point.

David Atkins, Will GOP Senators Allow Trump to Sabotage Their Chances in Alabama?

They’re caught between Scylla and Charybdis. Atkins writes,

Senate Republicans are facing a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” situation in the looming impeachment battle. As Trump’s guilt become more obvious by the day–and defending him becomes ever more impossible and impalatable–Republican leaders are caught in a vise. If they don’t defend Trump from impeachment, the president’s loyal base will turn on them and may stay home from the polls in 2020. But if they do defend the raging tire fire of venom and corruption in the White House, they may lose enough people of basic decency that it imperils their Senate majority. And it’s not just in 2020: the damage may well last a generation or more.

Few contests make clearer than the Senate race in Alabama. Most scenarios in which the GOP maintains control of the Senate in a blue wave election year depend on winning back the Alabama Senate seat lost in a stunning upset to Doug Jones in 2017. The special election was necessitated because President Trump elevated Jeff Sessions to Attorney General, thinking he would get a loyalist lackey in the position. Sessions to his credit refused to play along, earning Trump’s heated ire before he was replaced by the much more corruptly pliable William Barr. Still, Alabama is a deeply red state, and the conventional wisdom is that Jones will not survive in 2020.

But the stars are not aligning in the GOP’s favor. Jones won mostly because his opponent was Roy Moore, a extremist fanatic who was not only exposed as too far right even for Alabama Republicans, but also as an alleged child molester. A normal person, having lost as his party’s standard-bearer in one of the safest seats for his party in the country, would find another line of work. But not Moore. He is running again–and if he wins the GOP nomination, Doug Jones may survive to serve another terms.

But Moore isn’t the only Republican running. Jeff Sessions has indicated he wants his old seat back, and plans to run as well. Sessions would likely be a much more formidable opponent for Jones than Moore: Alabama voters know him, and were used to sending him to Congress what once seemed like a lifetime appointment. A competent political party led by a competent president would simply throw its weight behind Sessions and that would be that.

But Donald Trump’s corruption may throw a monkey wrench in that plan. His hatred of Sessions for refusing to twist the Justice Department far enough in his favor may wind up costing the GOP his nomination and thus the Senate seat itself.

The House “Freedom Caucus” as the Champions of Human Reason

Maori

Washington Post, House GOP looks to protect Trump by raising doubts about motives of his deputies

Greg Sargent, Republicans are throwing Giuliani under the bus. But there’s a problem.

Jonathan Chait, New GOP Ukraine Defense: Trump Was Just a Patsy for Sondland

I know what many of you are thinking: America has become divided into warring tribes with painted faces, yelling and sticking their tongues out at one another. There is no place any more for reasoned argument, yea, not for anything that bears the slightest resemblance to reasoned argument. So why is a lone blogger wasting his time and ours by deconstructing arguments?

You, dear friends, may very well be right. Certainly, if we were together, drinking—let us say at the Happy Acres happy hour—I would not engage you in vigorous disputation over the matter.

However, regardless of the accuracy of the claim that all of us have lost all appetite for reasoned discourse, I can name some people who do not share that view. Or who, at least, are not yet prepared to put all their eggs in that basket.

They are Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows and the 30-odd other members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Currently, these solons and champions of human reason are eschewing the Deny the Undeniable Defense. As Chait puts it, they don’t “deny that the extortion scheme took place.”

Ixnay, likewise, on the Defend the Indefensible Defense. In Chait’s words, once again, they do not “defend the extortion scheme as a legitimate exercise of foreign policy.”

Nor have they yet fallen back on the pure tribalism amoral defense: Just Get Over it.

They are instead arguing a version of the Explain the Inexplicable Defense–an argument which, if it bore the slightest resemblance to reality, might give some cover to Trump. (For the gory details, see the WaPo story cited above.)

And why not embrace the patently illogical arguments? Why the hell not?, you may well ask.

Have these folks searched deep within their souls and found some lingering reservoir of moral strength and courage?

No, I don’t think so.

Well, then, are they not aware that vast hordes of Trump supporters would forgive any sin on his part? Has it escaped their notice that the Trump cultists do not give a tinker’s damn about anything bearing the slightest resemblance to a structured argument?

Yes, yes, my friends, it has assuredly not escaped their notice that vast swaths of the American public subscribe to the Cult of Trump.

Well, all that being the case, how may we explain this deep and incomprehensible mystery?

The answer must lie in a recognition by Messrs. Jordan and Meadows and others in their merry band that the utterly gullible, though vast in numbers, are not quite vast enough to keep them in power.

That, for folks other than the terminally stupid, continued tolerance of Trump will have to rest on something that is a second cousin of a plausible explanation.

It is an act of utter desperation. Chait and Sargent lay out the case why this dog will not hunt.

But, all that said, I sleep tonight with some small assurance that there is at least a scant hope for America, and that the light of reason has not entirely died. Even the House Freedom Caucus has seen the need to find a defense that might exonerate Trump, if it were true.

Progress, indeed.

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As I prepare for slumber, I see that today’s readers now come from Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Thailand, and the United States. Also Russia. It gives me a real special feeling to know that I have readers in Russia. Not gonna be accepting’ any perfume from strangers.