The Strongest, and yet Utterly Disingenuous, Trump Defense

The election appeal.

“#USAxAUS” by White House is in the Public Domain

The goal of Trump’s defense is clearly to provide Republican Senators with plausible explanations for why they can’t possibly vote to remove. Like defense attorneys cultivating reasonable doubt, Trump’s lawyers need to provide reasonable talking points for Senators and reasonable soundbites for FNC and like-minded media. “Reasonable” being defined here as good enough to convince Trump voters, as well as citizens paying only marginal attention, that removal from office is simply too dramatic a move.

These defenses will include any number of arguments ranging from the whole “perfect call” routine to sure, he did it, but it isn’t worthy of removal. After all, all presidents do this kind of thing. That denials that he did it are utterly contradictory to the notion that what he did doesn’t rise to the level of removal are logically incompatible will be of no consequence. What matters is that Senators (and TV producers, editors, Tweeters, and the like) can choose their own adventure when defending Trump.

The strong such soundbite will be something along the lines of the following by Trump attorney Pat Cipollone from his opening argument:

They’re asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election, but as I’ve said before, they’re asking you to remove president Trump from the ballot in an election that’s occurring in approximately nine months. They’re asking you to tear up all of the ballots across this country on your own initiative. Take that decision away from the American people.

[…]

It would violate our constitution, it would violate our history, it would violate our obligations to the future, and most importantly, it would violate the sacred trust that the American people have placed in you and have placed in them. The American people decide elections. They have one coming up in nine months. So we will be very efficient. We will begin our presentation today. We will show you a lot of evidence that they should have showed you and we will finish efficiently and quickly so that we can all go have an election. Thank you. 

On the one hand, if one is looking for a quick and easy response to the process, pointing to the fact that there is an election coming up is the easiest. “Let the people decide!” is the easiest dodge any member of the Senate can make. It lets them off the hook and flatters the wisdom of their supporters.

On the other hand, the notion that there should not be an impeachment because an election is coming and the American people can then decide undercuts the very idea of impeachment itself. It would mean, in the post XX Amendment world that a first term president should never be impeached because, after all, an election is coming.

I would note along those lines that since there were no term limits for president when the Constitution was written that the argument that “an election is coming” would have always been true (and therefore, based on this argument, mean that impeachment should never happen).

Worse, of course, is the argument that a plainly constitutional process (it is like written in the Constitution and everything) “violate[s] the constitution.” That statement is a remarkable non sequitur.

This defense is also incredibly brazen, since it is an attempt to turn charges of attempted election interference by Trump into election interference by his accusers. The entire purpose of Trump’s Ukraine operation was to get Ukraine to act in ways that would influence the 2020 campaign.

Indeed, those actions make impeaching and removing Trump before the 2020 elections more imperative in the face of a pending election, not less.

A truly significant element of this argument, and really the Trump defense in general, is that presidents should not be held accountable by the Congress at all (and we already know that standing DoJ policy is that law enforcement cannot hold the president accountable).

I am not surprised by the partisan impulse to protect their own (and the electoral calculus GOP Senators are entering into, not to mention a great deal of rationalization), but if Trump is not removed (which is as near to a certainty as a future event can be) and is reelected (a real possibility), then his abuses on power in a second term (if not in the next nine months) will be significant and will further erode accountability in our government.

“A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions”-James Madison, Federalist 51.

Sigh.

I would feel a lot better about relying on the people, via the electoral process, to deal with Trump’s malfeasance if we had a system of election that did not provide a very real possibility of minority rule.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Impeachment, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    “The entire purpose of Trump’s Ukraine operation was to get Ukraine to act in ways that would influence the 2020 campaign.

    Indeed, those actions make impeaching and removing Trump before the 2020 elections more imperative in the face of a pending election, not less.”

    Thank you for saying this, Steven. This needs to be said more often.

    18
  2. Modulo Myself says:

    It’s like analyzing the legal arguments at a Moscow show trial or the Wannsee Conference and looking for their flaws. Why bother? They’re staging a defense for the benefit of the overall spectacle. These aren’t disingenuous arguments because being disingenuous implies an attempt to convince somebody of something within the context of the alleged argument. But Trump can’t be guilty and only Republicans are actually capable of being elected to office. That’s the only argument being made here.

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I would feel a lot better about relying on the people, via the electoral process, to deal with Trump’s malfeasance if we had a system of election that did not provide a very real possibility of minority rule.

    Yep. We’ve had another election since 2016, and DEMs won that one pretty solidly, such that there has been a rush of Republicans retiring. I suspect that it is because being in the minority sucks and they don’t see it changing any time soon. I’m not saying people voted for DEMs because they wanted trump impeached (I still go back and forth on this) (not that my vote counted for much anyway) but I do think they wanted him held to account. Between the stonewalling and an utterly corrupt/gutless/whatever motivates them GOP majority in the Senate, it is at best unlikely before 2020 and maybe not even then.

    2
  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    Last time he stole our lunch money. But let’s not do anything about it because tomorrow we’ll have more lunch money and who knows? Maybe he won’t steal it again.

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  5. Gustopher says:

    That denials that he did it are utterly contradictory to the notion that what he did doesn’t rise to the level of removal are logically incompatible will be of no consequence.

    I would hope that their argument is closer to “he didn’t do what those dastardly Democrats accuse him of, and what they accuse him of doesn’t rise to the level of removal” just to be logically consistent.

    Also, all of the “perfect call” claims remind me of the Lou Reed song “Perfect Day” as it was used in Trainspotting, where someone is being hauled to the hospital with a drug overdose.

    (The majority of the Trump administration reminds me of the end of The Prisoner with “All You Need Is Love” being played while people are being machine gunned.)

    4
  6. Mister Bluster says:

    RIP Kobe…

    5
  7. @Guarneri: I just saw–a tragic event.

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  8. @Gustopher:

    I would hope that their argument is closer to “he didn’t do what those dastardly Democrats accuse him of, and what they accuse him of doesn’t rise to the level of removal” just to be logically consistent.

    Taken as a whole, I am not sure that there is that much coherence.

    1
  9. CSK says:
  10. DrDaveT says:

    The “overturn the election” argument is trivial to rebut. All you have to do is point out that not one Republican made that argument when Bill Clinton was being impeached. If it were a real thing now, it would have been a real thing then.

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  11. mattbernius says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The “overturn the election” argument is trivial to rebut.

    More so, even if he is removed, his running mate becomes President, not Hillary Clinton. It’s not like the Republicans lose the presidency.

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  12. Moosebreath says:

    @DrDaveT:

    “All you have to do is point out that not one Republican made that argument when Bill Clinton was being impeached. If it were a real thing now, it would have been a real thing then.”

    You are assuming that consistency means something to Republicans. What evidence do you have that is actually the case?

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  13. @DrDaveT:

    The “overturn the election” argument is trivial to rebut. All you have to do is point out that not one Republican made that argument when Bill Clinton was being impeached. If it were a real thing now, it would have been a real thing then.

    Sadly, pointing back is not persuasive.

    By the same token, the Dems has flipped their tune in many cases as well.

    2
  14. @mattbernius:

    More so, even if he is removed, his running mate becomes President, not Hillary Clinton. It’s not like the Republicans lose the presidency.

    Not to mention that Pence becomes president.

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  15. Mister Bluster says:

    …overturn the election…

    Which election?
    The results of the balloting by the Electoral College which are the Constitutional “Citizens be damned” tally?
    Or the popular vote using the legal ballots of constituents in the 50 States which is apparently just a suggestion.

    2
  16. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    By the same token, the Dems has flipped their tune in many cases as well.

    I have no idea what you mean by that, but it’s irrelevant to this situation. There is nothing to flip here — this argument literally was never made in the past. Nobody had an opinion or position on it, because it wasn’t a thing. At all.

    I’m not claiming that this rebuttal is persuasive — anyone who puts forth the “overturn the election” argument is already beyond persuasion. It does, however, remove the fig leaf.

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  17. @DrDaveT:

    I have no idea what you mean by that,

    In the Clinton impeachment many Democrats, including Nadler, referred the proceedings as a “coup”–should that influence the way contemporary Democrats view the current impeachment process?

    You know I think Trump should go, but the notion that what either party said in the 1990s (even the same Senators) has any power because of the hypocrisy of it all just doesn’t work (or, it is the kind of thing that only works when one is talking to a co-partisan).

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  18. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Agreed. It just leads us down the path of “whataboutism” in order to dodge the underlying issues or a better argument.

    1
  19. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You know I think Trump should go, but the notion that what either party said in the 1990s (even the same Senators) has any power because of the hypocrisy of it all just doesn’t work (or, it is the kind of thing that only works when one is talking to a co-partisan).

    Yeah, if consistency mattered, Trump would never have won the nomination. Nor would people like Graham have become sycophants once he won the election.

    On principle, he should definitely go. But practically, even if he were removed, I would worry about the reaction of the hardcore supporters. Most of the Republicans who held their nose will just move on. And, whether they admit it publically or even to themselves, be relieved.

    But the hardcore supporters are unstable, angry, and many are armed. Even some educated supporters claim this is a coup. If people with advanced degrees say it, imagine how the idiots with guns would react.

    He won’t be removed. But I am concerned that if he loses in November, the unstable hardcore may become dangerous.

    5
  20. Mister Bluster says:

    …TMZ is also reporting that his 13-year-old daughter was on board, Gianna Bryant.

  21. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster: Worse and worse. Vanessa Bryant has lost her husband and her oldest daughter. Gianna Marie Onore was beautiful, and apparently a rising basketball talent.

    2
  22. Mister Bluster says:

    …and worse.
    Apparently they were en route to a basketball tournament that Gianna was to play in. On board was one of her team mates and the teammates parent.
    When word reached the tournament it was suspended immediately…

    1
  23. Matt says:

    @Guarneri: Who cares? Around 102 other people will die today in car accidents alone and none of them will get a nationwide newspaper article or RIP from anyone here…

    This is part of the problem with the USA. Stuff only matters when it happens to a rich person or a “celebrity”…

    @Moosebreath: The only argument that matters to them is the winning argument. It doesn’t matter if that argument is the opposite of what they started arguing just as long as they and the GOP “win”. I had a conversation the other day where a partisan tried to pull that “the democrats are trying to over turn the will of the people!!” when I responded that the EC had already over turned the will of the people they didn’t even seem to understand what I meant at first. I had to actually point out that the will of the people voted for Hillary by over 3m more votes and we still got the loser Trump. Then they tried to change the subject….

    3
  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Matt: While I will concede you’re basic point about celebrity, Guarneri gets very few chances to establish in our minds that he is anything other than a 10,ooo milligram quinine pill equivalent, so it may be unwise to treat his current post with the same sort of disdain as when he drives by with an incoherent snark or a link to some pro-Russia website.

    I don’t like the guy either, but at least this time he’s showing us that he’s approximately human.

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  25. mattbernius says:

    So then this happened:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/us/politics/trump-bolton-book-ukraine.html

    I might have to (gladly) retract my comment from a few weeks ago that Bolton testifying would be a nothingburger.

    Is it too early (or crass) to ask someone start popping some popcorn? Because the timing of this against the start of the President’s defense feels chef kiss…

    3
  26. Jim Brown 32 says:

    A lot of people care…just not you…because you’re a dick. And it’s ok to be a dick….own it.

    2
  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Guarneri:
    Don’t come here and lecture anyone on morality, you lack standing.

    5
  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    The Bolton revelation just cut the nuts off Trump’s Epstein lawyers. The only defense left is: “I can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, fuck you, I’m the white president.”

    Trump is a criminal. He’s incompetent. He’s mentally unbalanced. He has to go, every Republican Senator knows it. #Cult45 knows it. But a potent blend of spite and cowardice dominates the minds of the Trumpaloons. Better to see the country die than admit that they were wrong and we were right. Again.

    3
  29. wr says:

    @Guarneri: Wow. I’m agreeing with Guarneri here.

    Yes, lots of people die every day, and we pay more attention when it’s someone famous.

    But Kobe, like a handful of other celebrities, is famous because he touched millions of lives with his skill and grace and genius. He was a brilliant athlete and was now turning his life and his considerable (and well-earned!) fortune to other ventures. And he was only 41.

    So yeah, people are saddened or even upset by this. The fact that a lot of other people died the same day doesn’t make it better…

    6
  30. Matt says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Fair enough. Dude was over paid to play a game I played as a child. People take that crap way too seriously. Where I live it’s all about football and the high schools spend millions on football fields and stuff rather than actually improving the quality of education. I’m not a huge fan of professional sports in general as it skews people’s priorities and frankly it’s meaningless. I have a huge rant about sports teams essentially extorting large sums of money from cities. So I’m trying really hard to just stop at this. Also yeah I am a dick.

    @Guarneri: As Micheal said you lack standing to make such a judgement on me.

    @wr: Those “a lot of people” have absolutely no connection to the guy either. Other than an internal artificial connection they made via a TV image. I can understand going “well crap that sucks dude was pretty good about charity stuff”. I can’t understand the whole OMG NOO BOOO HOO RIP KOBE 4 LYFE crap I’m seeing.

    @mattbernius: Yeah I’m in the same boat as you with that. I kept thinking/hoping that Bolton wouldn’t take well to Trump humiliating him and it seems that actually is happening. Bolton’s revenge basically.