The Best Defense

fairy tales

In the immediately preceding post, I laid out the four possible lines of defense. If Trump were thinking logically, which would he choose?

I will answer my own question.

The best alternative by far would be to admit that he conditioned Ukrainian military aid on a Ukrainian announcement that they would open some investigations of the Democrats, and argue that, in so acting, he did not commit an offense worthy of impeachment. There are five powerful considerations that would lead a rational Trump to adopt this posture. (They are all compelling, and I don’t know how to rank order them by importance, so I’ll mention them in random order.)

One. The dividing line between impeachable bad conduct and bad conduct that doesn’t merit impeachment is amorphous, undefined, loosy goosy—whatever term you like.

That means that, whatever bad thing you or your guy did, you can always move the goalpost so it’s just a little bit north of the bad conduct that actually occurred.

Your argument to move the goalpost may be bad and it may be unpersuasive, but at least it doesn’t insult your listeners’ intelligence.

Two. As far as we can tell right now, Trump has no alternative narrative  about the Ukrainian extortion. Evidently, he cannot give an explanation for why he decided to withhold the military aid, and when he decided to withhold it. Some spoke loosely of withholding aid “pending an interagency review.” But interagency reviews leave paper trails. Any paper trail here to evidence the purported review? And, evidently, he cannot explain why he decided to relent and let the aid flow after all—but for the obvious explanation that he got caught.

It’s as if he wants to blame the blueberry pie consumption on his older brother—but he doesn’t have an older brother.

Three. Asking your supporters to claim they believe an obvious fairy tale insults their intelligence, imposes severe cognitive dissonance on them, and tends to alienate any rational people who remain among your supporters.

Four. Asking your supporters to claim they believe an obvious fairy tale tacitly admits that what you actually did was impeachable as hell.

It tells everybody that if you did what you actually good, then your goose is cooked.

You’re done, stick a fork in.

Five. Bill Clinton got away with the “bad but not impeachable defense,” so why shouldn’t you?

So, that’s what Trump would do if he were acting logically.

But what will he actually do?

Ask Nostradamus, don’t ask me.

Nostradamus

Four Problems with the “Bad but not Impeachable” Defense

four problems

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.