The Republican Party is speechless. A week after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the beginning of an impeachment investigation, Trump’s usual allies in the administration, in Congress, in the media—have no defense for his actions. Instead, as Politico reported on Wednesday morning, “GOP lawmakers and operatives are concerned at what appears to be a lack of urgency from the Trump administration in forming an organized, unified response engine to the Democratic impeachment threat. There is either a failure to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation; or an inability to protect the president like they did his Supreme Court nominees with a centralized war room that has credibility with stakeholders across the party.”
It’s no wonder that Republicans aren’t stepping into the breach this week, given how a number of prominent Republicans, including minority leader Kevin McCarthy, minority whip Steve Scalise, and House Oversight committee ranking member Jim Jordan, fared in defending the president over the weekend. They insisted that Trump had done nothing wrong, that the conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was above board, and that the media was missing the real scandal (Joe Biden and his son, naturally). None of this stood up to the slightest scrutiny; even NBC’s Chuck Todd, perhaps the most credulous newsman on TV, eviscerated them.
Now, Republicans are unwilling to be further humiliated, but the White House has refused to take the lead. There is no war room, no grand strategy, none of the behind-the-scenes organizing the GOP used to counter the Mueller report. Instead, the president has been left to improvise his own defense, tweeting incessantly with the hope that something will stick. The man has become fully unhinged.
While the president raged and Republicans dithered, Democrats organized. On Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff addressed their legislative and investigative priorities, showing exactly the kind of leadership the Republican Party is lacking. “We’re not fooling around here. We don’t want this to drag on for months and months, which appears to be the administration’s strategy,” Schiff said. Pelosi, meanwhile, addressed legislation regarding prescription drugs, infrastructure, and trade. Republicans, it seems, have fully ceded the political narrative to the Democrats.
Unlike his response to the Mueller investigation, Trump’s handling of the Ukraine scandal does not contain a categorical denial. It can’t. The summary transcript of his conversation with Zelenskiy, and the whistleblower report that first alerted members of Congress to its existence, contain irrefutable evidence that he attempted to enlist a foreign power to aid his reelection campaign. Instead, he has ricocheted from one belligerent argument to the next—that impeachment is a coup, and that it will cause the stock market to collapse or even lead to a civil war. On Wednesday morning, he continued to twist in the wind:
These are dangerous arguments, as many, including Schiff, have noted. But they’re pathetic above all. The president is utterly alone and trying to tweet through it.
Republicans are clearly desperate for a news story to distract from Trump’s obvious abuses of power, or for new information that muddies the water. They undoubtedly hope for some detail about the whistleblower to emerge that undercuts his report and reveals some deep-seated political bias. But the Republicans’ silence says more than their bumbling words ever could: There is no coherent case to be made in Trump’s defense, so the best response is none at all.