It is the Republican’s 2020 election playbook, and I want to see it
Let me begin with these propositions:
1. Given the evidence they had, and going to trial without the witnesses and evidence they should have had but were denied, the House of Representatives executed a masterful prosecution of their case against Donald Trump before the jury of 100 senators;
2. House impeachment lead prosecutor, Adam Schiff, channeled the best of Lincoln in his impassioned closing statements on Thursday and Friday nights;
3. Schiff’s phrase, “Without Article 2 there can be no Article 1” should be my next tattoo;
4. The Senate, faced with compelling evidence — despite the absence of witnesses and evidence withheld by the Administration — will nonetheless vote to acquit the President along unwavering party lines.
5. The precedent the Senate will set by its fealty-based acquittal will haunt the Republicans throughout the 2020 election year.
6. Democrats seeking some actionable advantage in the 2020 elections now have the opposition’s playbook.
As distasteful as it may be…as hard as it may be to listen to thoughtfully and dispassionately…it is important to watch the President’s lawyers present their case in favor of impeachment/removal acquittal. For all the evidence and focus on minute details presented by the House impeachment prosecutors, the President’s defense will offer an alternative universe of evidence and cherry-picked details to distract the Senate jury from the core accusations that the President of the United States has subverted the power of his office for his personal gain (Article 1) and used his office to obstruct a Congressional investigation (Article 2).
The importance of examining dog poop
If you are an experienced dog owner, you know that from time to time your dog’s poop may be a good indicator of some internal trouble (the same is true of our own poop, but let’s stick with dog poop for now). Your vet may ask you to bring in a sample of your dog’s poop for testing. An exam may show something very wrong — worms, for example — or simple (a diet deficiency easily corrected). Well, the same sort of exam is necessary when a president’s lawyer poops out words on the Senate floor. A careful viewer can tell from the lawyer’s demeanor that all is not right with him or her — they are pooping evidence that is wormy, they are acting in ways that suggest a diet of recalled presidential kibble or even other lawyer’s poop, rather than healthy meals of legal ethics.
The President’s team’s key lawyer, Pat Cipollone, began the defense with a fulsome readout of the infamous July 25th transcript of the conversation between Trump and Ukraine president Zelensky, including portions the House did not read. Following that, Cipollone said the “House hid evidence from you,” and with that, he set the tone of what will fill the Senate over the next 24 hours of the defense’s presentation. And, of course, the defense did go where Adam Schiff said they would go — to an attack on Schiff and Schiff’s parody of the Trump-Zelensky conversation.
Attacking with no honor
Deputy White House counsel Mike Purpura admitted at the very start of the defense’s argument that the “perfect” transcript is the “most important” piece of evidence of the trial. It is clear — and no surprise — that the President’s attorneys who are lined up for their share of the defense argument are not going to address the House’s argument that this trial is about the President’s abrogation of his responsibilities as chief executive and defender of the Constitution and national security.
Not caring is not impeachable
They are going to go down the road of “The President can do what he wants, even if the American public doesn’t like it, because he can’t be impeached for doing things his own way.” A corollary of this risible defense is, “The President doesn’t have to listen to advice he doesn’t like, and he can choose to listen only to those who do tell him what he likes — whether those people are government employees or not.” Those are the thin, damp straws of nonsense with which the President’s attorneys must build an embarrassingly weak argument. But build it they will, because their boss is, of course, the best builder, the most knowledgeable builder, the perfect builder — of walls of lies and towers of deception. And he has given his attorneys the blueprint for his defense.
Going low with no conscience
Early in their opening statement, the President’s lawyers attempted to denigrate the testimony of Lt. Col. Alex Vindman by asserting that Vindman, a combat veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart, was nothing more than a policy staffer — a wonk — on the Security Council, and not in any position to question Trump’s conversation with Zelensky. And so it will go for all the time allotted to the defense team.
Every single House witness who held an administration position of honor and trust will be dismissed by the defense as tangential witnesses at best, or unreliable witnesses with bones to pick at worst (or worse still, if the Republicans choose to propagate the despicable lies of one of their own, Senator Marsha Blackburn (TN), whose vile attack on Lt. Col. Vindman whose accusations were left unchallenged by many of her Republican colleagues).
Jay Sekulow, outside legal counsel for the President, true to form, and as forecast by Adam Schiff on Friday night, brought up his team’s favorite boogeymen: The Mueller Report, the FISA Court, Carter Page, and the Obama administration…all within the very first hour of the defense’s argument. Not once in that opening hour did the Trump team defend the down-the-rabbit-hole-of-conspiracy actions of the President. Or his penchant for bullying our allies. Or his record of affection for Vladimir Putin’s world view against the clanging calls and blazing red lights of caution our nation’s intelligence services and military leadership raised in front of Trump.
And that is because Trump’s lawyers cannot actually defend the President. The defense cannot defend the indefensible, cannot raise a reasonable explanation for the President’s self-serving behavior, cannot, with straight faces, acknowledge, through logical arguments, that what Trump did vis a vis Ukraine and follow-on obstruction of a legitimate Congressional inquiry was within the bounds of his presidential authority. And because they cannot argue against the facts as presented by the House — facts well-known to the American public — they are left with obfuscation and diversion as their 24-hour mission. They are in a perfect pickle.
Playing to an audience of 54
We know Trump’s attorneys are playing to a very select audience of 54 men and women: 53 Republican senators sitting silently, grudgingly, in the Senate chamber, and one petulant president watching from his box seat at the White House. As far as the defense team is concerned, there is no point in speaking to the American people — the electorate — in any but the most broad-stroke terms, using distracting examples, employing right-wing-appeasing trigger phrases and catchwords, and reinvigorating dead theories and discarded conspiracies.
If those of us who pride ourselves on having at least the sense to discern truth from fiction know in advance what the Trump team will do, why should we watch? Because it is not the foreordination of the trial’s outcome that is important; it is the forecast for what will take place in the wake of the acquittal that matters. We don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, but we do need the President’s defense team to tell us which way the Republican winds will blow during the 2020 elections.
We need to hear and see, in as much detail as possible, the ease with which the defense fallacies are drafted, how craftily the sleight-of-hand techniques are employed, and how the signature talking points will be arrayed before Republicans — Senate, House, and state and local Republicans — hungry to hold onto their elected seats. What the Trump attorneys are presenting in the Senate is the Republican playbook for 2020, and I, for one, want to see that playbook as early as possible.
Once Chief Justice Roberts bangs the gavel and ends the trial, Republicans will be rushing to their public relations teams to fashion campaign messages replete with soundbites from the President’s lawyers and carefully constructed clips of the “offensive and outrageous” comments by the now-disreputable House witnesses who had the audacity and, perhaps, anti-American gall and temerity to question the dear leader in the White House. Their campaigns will be booking time with every conservative and right-wing local talk shows they can find and stroke.
How do I know this?
How do I know this? Because, sad to say, I was once on the team of a Republican political committee, and my job was to write little talking-point booklets filled with attack poop for Congressional candidates, and to coach those candidates through the television appearance process. I helped Republican candidates shade the truth, turn the tables on their Democratic opponents, and use cherry-picked data to reinforce tenuous campaign promises.
It does not absolve me of my hired-gun status to note that I was in my 20s then, and that now, almost 50 years later, as a confirmed lefty Democrat, I express the errors of my ways. But the lesson here is that I do know what is going through the minds of the Republican Senators who are up for reelection. I know how Republican House members — who are all up for reelection — are going to glom onto their newly-crafted talking-point binders. Those binders are being filled with impeachment trial-derived false equivalents, straw man deceptions, outright lies, hearsay, innuendo, and references to discredited websites and videos in order to hold fast to their Trump-supporting constituencies.
An entire big-money industry exists to push out onto social media and wackadoodle airwaves the poop every Republican incumbent and candidate is ready to deposit on the floors of the nation’s voting booths.
A call to action
And that is why it more important than you may think to watch the Senate trial. You have to see just what disgusting Trumpian food the President’s legal team has been eating and is now squatting down to deliver on the Senate floor. What self-serving worms are in there, what bits of lies and betrayal of office have infested their guts? Why are such meals ingested by desperate Republicans? Are they so afraid of Trump that they will scavenge the White House dumpster rather than seek the more rewarding and sustaining meals of ethical behavior?
What we will learn from the Trump defense will help us write our own playbooks, fill our own campaign binders, and draft the scripts of needed counterattacking posts, clips, and soundbites that will throw the Republicans’ words back at them. We can force them to look at those execrable words and see them for what they are — presidential poop, filled with worms of lies and bits of subversion. We can make them pick up their poop, and shame them for their willingness to subvert their oaths of office and impale their moral and ethical souls on the rocks of misguided obeisance to a would-be-king.