I have said—and lots of pundits and talking heads have said—that the position Trump defenders will be forced, in the end, to rely upon is the same defense that prevailed in the Clinton impeachment: it was bad, it was wrong, but it was not an impeachable defense.
All the other defenses are bullshit, but this one is not clearly bullshit, because the standard of what constitutes an “impeachable offense” is political and subjective. Therefore: to assert the bad-but-not-impeachable defense is to invite the listener to make a subjective judgment, not to demand that the listener check his or her rationality at the front door.
And, as I said, it’s the defense that worked for Clinton, so why not trot it out for Trump?
All that said, it seems to me that the “bad but not impeachable” defense is highly, highly problematic.
As a preliminary matter, remember who the audience is. It’s not the hard core Trump cultists. The hard core cultists will be happy with—and they will cheerfully regurgitate—any nonsense they are provided. These are the folks who’re shelling out for the “Get Over It” T-shirts.
No, the audience are those just to the left of the hard core cultists. Maybe they like the fetuses and the judges and the tax cuts, but they’re not so sure about Trump himself. These are the people Trump needs if he is going to survive.
The First Problem
Maybe you can’t think 17 steps ahead in the chess game, but you really need to think two or three steps ahead. With that thought in mind, the first problem with the “bad but not impeachable” argument is that invites a further discussion about
- exactly what Trump did or did not do, and
- just how bad his actions were.
Believe me, Trump and his enablers really, really do not benefit from anything resembling a rational discussion of these matters.
The Second Problem
If you’re going to argue bad-but-not-impeachable, then you really need an explanation for
- why Trump withheld the military aid in the first place, and, maybe more importantly,
- why he relented in September.
You really need to show that his decision to release the aid was occasioned by something other than the fact that he got caught—an inference that follows from the close chronological relation between the whistleblower complaint and the release of the money.
To illustrate: if Trump initially withheld the aid for impure motives, but, some time during September, took a stroll down the Road to Damascus, suddenly realized the error of his ways, and released the money, then maybe you can plausibly argue bad-but-not-impeachable.
Or, there is Gym Jordan’s fairly tale about how Trump released the money because his advisors advised him that Zelinsky is really a good guy, not a corrupt politician.
But, failing believe in some such fanciful, unsubstantiated narrative, it looks like the Trumpster released the aid the moment his hand was caught in the cookie jar. Looks like the Trumpster himself thought his own conduct was imminently impeachable.
The Third Problem
The third problem is that bad-but-not-impeachable argument might conceivably persuade some of the folks just to the left of the Trump cultists, but it creates severe congnitive dissonance for the cultists themselves, who think that everything Trump does is perfect.
The Fourth Problem
The fourth problem is that Trump himself has not embraced the bad-but-not-impeachable argument—and may denounce as a traitor anyone who puts it forward.