The Contest of Ideas

Five Things You Need to Read Today

1. “He Is Our O.J.”

Like most people, I haven’t been following very closely the Senate impeachment trial. Why? Because we all know the fix is in. The trial is not revealing any new information, so instead it is just an opportunity for Republicans to present their rationalizations for letting Donald Trump off the hook. And most of the rationalizations will be ones we’ve heard before. In shooting down one of those arguments, the editorial board at National Review pretty accurately sums up where things are at.

Senate Republicans, by and large, have reached an unspoken consensus about President Trump and Ukraine. He should not have put a temporary freeze on congressionally authorized aid to Ukraine, should not have dabbled with using the aid to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden or a nutty theory about Ukrainian hacking during the 2016 election, and should not have kept defending his “perfect call” as such. At the same time, his conduct does not merit his removal from office—especially since voters will get to pass judgment on that conduct in a few months.

It’s a reasonable position, and it’s the case that Republicans ought to make in public. They are inhibited from doing so by the president’s obstinacy. Instead of sticking to the most defensible case for a Senate acquittal of Trump, Republicans from the president on down are making arguments that range from the implausible to the embarrassing.

Sorry, folks, but you don’t get any credit for the attitude that “we’d like to use reason, but it’s politically inconvenient.”

The reason for this behavior is the public opinion polls, which are showing just about the worst result for Republicans in Congress: a majority support removing Trump from office—but his “base” has not deserted him and has in fact dug in. This means that Republicans will be punished by general election voters if they vote to acquit Trump, but they will be reviled by the Republican base if they vote to remove him. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

That, in turn, raises the question of why the Republican base is standing with Trump.

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