Se­nate GOP’s no-win sce­nario isn’t ‘per­fect’

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE - Jonah Goldberg

In re­sponse to news re­ports over the week­end that at least one ad­di­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion whistle­blower has come for­ward to say what he or she knows about President Trump’s Ukrainian schemes, South Carolina Sen. Lind­sey Graham tweeted, “I’ve seen this movie be­fore — with Brett Ka­vanaugh. More and more doesn’t mean bet­ter or re­li­able.”

Graham’s raw po­lit­i­cal spin­ning has a fa­tal flaw. Graham wants to tar the whistle­blow­ers as part of a par­ti­san cam­paign. But their mo­ti­va­tion is largely ir­rel­e­vant now be­cause the bulk of the al­le­ga­tions have al­ready been cor­rob­o­rated by the rough phone call tran­script re­leased by the White House and by the state­ments of the president and his aides. So while it’s still pos­si­ble that the whistle­blow­ers are part of some elab­o­rate Demo­cratic or “deep state” plot to take down the president, the plot­ters are us­ing truth­ful in­for­ma­tion to do the deed.

The most char­i­ta­ble view of Graham’s syco­phancy is that the president has put him and GOP se­na­tors in gen­eral in a no-win predica­ment.

The po­lit­i­cal hell most Se­nate Repub­li­cans have found them­selves in since 2016 can be de­scribed as the chasm be­tween how Trump wants them to be­have and how they believe they should gov­ern.

Vir­tu­ally none of these se­na­tors can get re­elected with­out the third of Repub­li­cans who adore Trump, but the vul­ner­a­ble ones need more than just the Trumpers to get across the fin­ish line. This means they have to at­tract fewer sin­gle-minded vot­ers who are of­ten more Trump-skep­ti­cal — mostly sub­ur­ban, col­lege-ed­u­cated Repub­li­cans and Repub­li­can-lean­ing in­de­pen­dents. But be­cause the president and his most ar­dent fans will not brook any crit­i­cism of the president, the se­na­tors have been left try­ing to thread a very nar­row nee­dle: Dif­fer­en­ti­ate your­self from Don­ald Trump while not ac­tu­ally crit­i­ciz­ing Don­ald Trump.

The im­peach­ment drama is shrink­ing the nee­dle’s eye even more.

Past pres­i­dents in the crosshairs of scan­dal have re­sorted to apol­o­giz­ing. Ron­ald Rea­gan ad­mit­ted that “mis­takes were made” after he stum­bled on the facts dur­ing the Iran-Con­tra scan­dal. Bill Clin­ton ini­tially de­nied every­thing, then told the na­tion, “I have sinned” and asked for for­give­ness for his con­duct.

Trump is de­ter­mined to go an­other way and to pun­ish those who dis­agree, as he has al­ready tried to do with Utah Sen. Mitt Rom­ney. That’s why Graham, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst and Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio find it nec­es­sary to hide be­hind var­i­ous pars­ing ra­tio­nal­iza­tions. Ru­bio’s re­sponse to Trump’s call­ing on the Chi­nese to in­ves­ti­gate Joe Biden is now the of­fi­cial safe har­bor for Repub­li­cans: He didn’t re­ally mean it, he’s just trolling the press. Ernst says, in effect, that crit­i­ciz­ing the president won’t change his be­hav­ior, so why bother?

Mean­while, the Democrats have bun­gled the im­peach­ment is­sue. House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Schiff, in par­tic­u­lar, has never missed an op­por­tu­nity to burn any cred­i­bil­ity he might have as a sober and hon­est in­ves­ti­ga­tor. Demo­cratic par­ti­sans may like his red-meat rhetoric, but they lose sight of the fact that trolling Trump just makes the president’s job eas­ier. Schiff’s en­tirely fic­tional ac­count of Trump’s con­ver­sa­tion with the Ukrainian president, read into the Con­gres­sional Record, may have in­fu­ri­ated the president, but it also gave Trump a talking point and an ex­cuse for Repub­li­cans to hide be­hind the un­fair­ness of the process.

If im­peach­ment is go­ing to be any­thing other than a par­ti­san protest im­me­di­ately swat­ted down by the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate, Democrats need to me­thod­i­cally make their case through se­ri­ous fact-find­ing — an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that not only per­suades at least 20 Repub­li­can se­na­tors but also a suf­fi­cient num­ber of the vot­ers those se­na­tors need to stay in of­fice.

Short of that, the safer path will be for Repub­li­cans to con­tinue to pre­tend every­thing is “per­fect.”

Tri­bune Con­tent Agency

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