This week the impeachment trial of President Trump will probably end in his acquittal. If so, the President will owe his victory to his base—the 86% of self-identified Republicans who adamantly oppose his removal from office and to whom Senate Republicans will defer, whether out of genuine conviction or out of fear of being primaried. Had the President had to rely on his defense team for acquittal following a trial in which the outcome was not foreordained, he might well have lost. Indeed, he might have had a better defense had it been handled by the Three Stooges. The lack of intelligence shown by the President’s defenders does not bode well for a Republican victory in the upcoming general election.
The incompetence of the President’s defense team is shown by its dominant strategy throughout the trial—to argue that there was no “quid pro quo” arrangement between President Trump and the Ukrainian president by which military aid would be delivered to the Ukraine only after an investigation of the Bidens was first announced. To that end, his defense team argued that the testimony of Ambassadors Sondland and Yovanovitch, as well as that of Colonel Vindman, Fiona Hill, and others was merely hearsay proving nothing. But what about John Bolton?
Some of Trump’s defenders have dismissed the revelation that John Bolton has a book documenting an explicit quid pro quo proposal as simply a variation of the sort of dirty trick Democrats like to play on Republicans when they release potentially damaging information and allegations at the last moment—the Access Hollywood tape just before the 2016 election, the ludicrous charges against Judge Kavanaugh near the end of his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But rumors that John Bolton could, and would, document the quid pro quo arrangement had been circulating long before the President was impeached. Nobody should be surprised that what was once rumor could become reality.
Of course, one must wait to read what Bolton has to say before drawing definitive conclusions. Yet still, the President’s defense team could have, and should have, been prepared with better arguments than simple denials that the President did anything wrong in his “perfect” telephone call of July 25, especially if their denial of facts could be undermined by the refutation of their denials and the documentation of the facts which they’re denying. One of the most intelligent defenses was suggested by Andrew McCarthy, an attorney and analyst for the National Review:
Here, the president’s best defense has always been that Ukraine got its security aid, and President Volodymyr Zelensky got his coveted high-profile audience with the president of the United States (albeit at the U.N., rather than at the White House). Kyiv barely knew defense aid was being withheld, the very temporary delay had no impact whatsoever on Ukraine’s capacity to counter Russian aggression, and Zelensky was required neither to order nor to announce any investigation of the Bidens. However objectionable the calculations that led to the delay may have been, nothing of consequence happened. Therefore, there was no impeachable offense. Case closed.
A similar defense gambit was suggested by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who’s retiring this year and could have supported the calling of Bolton and other witnesses without fear of being primaried. Nonetheless he announced his opposition to witnesses with thoughts consistent with those of McCarthy, while adding that it’s up to the voters this fall to pass judgment on the President’s probable misconduct:
I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense. The Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate. The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday. Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with ‘the consent of the governed,’ not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide.”
Of course, it’s perfectly fair to ask why anyone should care about the Republicans’ inability to present an intelligent defense of the President if the outcome of his triumph will be acquittal anyway. The answer is quite simple: The end of the trial will not be the end of the campaign to remove President Trump. The Democrats will almost certainly call on John Bolton anyway to testify to what he is thought to know about the President and the Ukraine, and they will continue to use whatever other means they can to derail the President’s re-election campaign. Of course, the President will have his own advantages—a loyal base, a strong economy, a built-in advantage in the Electoral College, which amplifies the strength of smaller and mainly Republican states. But reliance on these resources may not be enough. To use them to their best advantage will require far more intelligence than either the President, or his defense team, or Republican strategists in general have shown to date.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.