An old legal maxim says: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”
When it comes to impeachment, Republicans have entered the “pound the table and yell like hell” phase of bargaining. In recent weeks, they’ve put the system on trial, engaged in mob-like behavior to delegitimize the process, and (in case that doesn’t work) suggested that even if Trump did something wrong, it isn’t impeachable—all things conservatives might have once found viscerally repellent.
Let’s start with the strategy of putting the system on trial. When asked Wednesday by CNN’s Manu Raju about top Ukraine diplomat William Taylor’s damning testimony, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks declared: “The opening statement doesn’t make any difference... You should not be relying on it!”
“I’m asking about the substance of what he said,” Raju explained, to which Brooks shot back: “We don’t know whether what he said is true or not because of the sham process that’s being used.”
There you have it. The process is a “sham,” so there’s no need to even pay attention to the fact that William Taylor—who was asked by Mike Pompeo to become our top diplomat in Ukraine—basically confirmed (a) what Trump and Rudy Giuliani have already admitted, (b) what the whistleblower reported, (c) what the White House “transcript” suggested, and (d) what Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged publicly.
The point here is that it is hardly outlandish, or even premature, to be asked about the substance of this earth-shattering testimony.
A more high-profile example of this diversionary tactic manifested on Wednesday, when Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and a throng of congressional Republicans and staffers “stormed” a private hearing and violate rules about bringing phones into a SCIF.
It felt like Code Pink meets the Brooks Brothers Riot, but the real goal was to shift the narrative from Trump’s behavior to the Democrats’ lack of transparency and inclusion in the impeachment process. (As The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump notes, even if one accepts this change of subject, it doesn’t hold much water, since “far more Democrats are unable to attend the inquiry hearings compared with Republicans.”)
Ultimately, this piece of performance art was a tacit admission that an increasingly frantic and rattled GOP is clinging to what is perhaps its only card left to play: Pounding the table. It looked like a circus, which, sadly, is in keeping with the current state of conservatism.
In many ways, it was also an embracing of the politics of victimhood. If you listen to conservative talk radio, a common theme suggests that poor Donald Trump was just trying to work hard for the American people, but he keeps getting picked on by the media and Democrats who have it out for him, for no reason.
This, of course, brings us to the last, best, hope for Trump, which is essentially jury nullification.
If you were alive during the O.J. Simpson trial, you may recall that the best defense was to put the whole system on trial—to attack the Los Angeles Police Department, which had previously harassed (this came on the heels of the Rodney King beating) and framed other African-Americans. Historically speaking, letting O.J. off the hook would be a show of solidarity done in service of a justice in a larger sense and even if it was wrong, would make up for all the black men wronged by the LAPD over the years.
Conservatives rightly howled at this notion, calling it a miscarriage of justice and a violation of the rules. But it worked.
And isn’t this essentially what many Republicans are now proposing? I mean, when Mo Brooks says that the testimony of Trump’s top man in Ukraine “doesn’t make any difference” because it’s all a “sham process,” it suggests that there really is no evidence that will ever be good enough for him.
Likewise, Trump has argued that Republicans should “get tougher and fight,” because Democrats “stick together.”
At the end of the day, protecting Trump is really about self-defense. “We’re not just defending Trump,” Rush Limbaugh explained on Wednesday. “We’re defending ourselves… Trump is a surrogate for the hate. Trump is an easy target.” They’re coming for us next. Basically, this is the Flight 93 impeachment!
Just as in the O.J. trial, tribalism trumps the facts regarding the guilt or innocence of the specific man who was on trial. Trump is, as Limbaugh suggests, merely a “surrogate” in a much larger struggle. How long before someone declares, “If there is no quid pro quo, you gotta let him go!”
The only problem is, even that high standard of evidence would still demand a conviction.