Jonah Goldberg: Senate GOP’s no-win scenario
In response to news reports Oct. 6 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. Graham surely knows this but is opting to pretend that there’s no plot there.
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 re-elected 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 less single-minded voters who are often more Trump-skeptical. 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 Trump while not actually criticizing Trump.
The impeachment drama is shrinking the needle’s eye even more, and from both sides.
On one side is the president. For instance, going by published reporting and my own conversations with senators and Senate staffers, as well as straightforward common sense (as opposed to the fantasy reasoning one finds in some corners of cable news and Twitter), I can tell you with a high degree of confidence that virtually no GOP senator agrees with the president that his July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was, as Trump likes to say, “perfect.” Beyond that, opinions differ, but it’s a safe bet that most Senate Republicans think the conversation could have gone better and would dearly love for the president to say so.
Trump is determined to punish those who disagree, as he has already tried to do with Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
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.
If impeachment is going to be anything other than a partisan protest 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.”
Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch