Spaghetti or Mud: Pick Your Metaphor

Scott R. Anderson and Quinta Jurecic, writing in Lawfare:

The Republican strategy [was hard]  to suss out. Steve Castor, a House Oversight Committee staffer, walked Kent and Taylor through a rambling line of questioning that never quite added up to anything, to the point where even supporters of the president wondered on social media where Castor was headed. House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes held forth on the Steele dossier—a subject that both witnesses were quick to say they knew nothing about. As the hearing went on, other Republicans—most prominently Rep. Jim Jordan—tested out a range of arguments, including that Ukraine and Hunter Biden are corrupt; that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election; that, for those reasons, Trump was right to push Zelensky to investigate these issues; that neither witness had direct contact with the president and that therefore their testimony may not be accurate; that the aid was eventually released in the absence of an announcement from Zelensky and therefore no wrongdoing was actually committed; and that the identity of the person behind the whistleblower complaint remains secret. It’s a scattershot approach that depends largely on the willingness of the president and the press to swallow conspiracy theories and distractions that add up to nothing more than a lot of spaghetti on the wall.

Renato Mariotti, writing on Politico:

If it looked like House Republicans were throwing a lot of mud at the wall to see what might stick during the first day of public impeachment hearings, that’s because they had settled into a strategy many defense attorneys adopt when the prosecution has the goods on their client—confuse the issues and distract the audience from the evidence at hand.

I’ve tried many federal criminal cases, and Wednesday’s hearing looked like a lot like trials in which the prosecution has the defendant on tape admitting to a crime. When defense attorneys can’t mount a defense on the merits, they raise a lot of peripheral issues in the hope of convincing at least one juror that there is reasonable doubt. …

Many commentators have bashed the performance of Republican attorney Steve Castor, openly predicting that he will be mocked on the upcoming edition of “Saturday Night Live.” Certainly his lack of experience trying cases showed. His opening line of questions, which attempted unsuccessfully to get Taylor and Kent to agree to a confusing conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, was particularly choppy. But Castor had very little to work with, and unlike an attorney at a trial, Castor wasn’t allowed to just ask a few questions and sit down. It appeared that he was told he had to fill 45 minutes, which is not easy to do when your side has no legitimate defense on the merits. He tried his best to testify through his questioning and confuse the issues—he spent a lot of time trying to get Taylor to acknowledge that Rudy Giuliani’s “irregular” diplomatic channel wasn’t as irregular as it could have been—but he could have sharpened his questions considerably.

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


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.


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.