Unless you are ensconced in President Trump’s cult, you might be wondering why Republicans are doing such a pathetic job defending him in the impeachment proceedings. In public, none of their arguments make a lot of sense or last very long.

“The investigation is being hidden behind closed doors!” Actually, most investigations start with private depositions and the transcripts’ release, plus public testimony will provide full transparency. (It is the administration that is stonewalling and preventing full transparency by denying documents and witnesses.)

“The whistleblower is lying!” There is no significant fact Republicans can identify in the complaint that contradicts witness testimony. Besides, Trump has no witnesses, suggesting that there really is not any factual dispute at all.

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“He didn’t succeed in extortion!” While this argument is deployed frequently, recently by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” this line of defense is almost too silly to warrant a response. People get prosecuted all the time for obstruction that doesn’t block prosecutions, murder plots that are thwarted and extortion schemes that aren’t effective. The notion that a president can never commit a “High Crime & Misdemeanor” unless he is really good at it is preposterous.

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“We have to leave him in office, because removing him is too divisive!” National Review’s Rich Lowry made this argument, also on “Meet the Press.” Well, we might as well repeal the impeachment clause, since there will always be an irrational, intractable segment of Americans willing to defend anything. It’s pretty divisive to leave in office someone who has already committed and will likely continue to commit impeachable acts affecting the upcoming election.

Behind closed doors, Republicans are even less coherent. The Post reports:

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Inside the secure room in the Capitol basement where the proceedings are taking place, Republicans have used their time to complain that testimony has become public, going after their colleagues who were quoted in media reports commenting on witness appearances, and quizzing witnesses themselves on how their statements had been released …
The newly released transcripts from [Marie] Yovanovitch and [Michael] McKinley — who appeared on Oct. 11 and Oct. 16, respectively — underscore how the Republicans’ strategy at that relatively early stage in the deposition process was more scattershot, covering a range of topics.

“Scattershot” is being kind. “Entirely irrelevant” or “incoherent” might be better descriptors. Sometimes the questions become downright inane:

[Rep. Mark] Meadows was among the most assertive Republican inquisitors, the transcripts show. He stuck largely to questioning the legitimacy of the process and trying to ferret out whether Yovanovitch or her sources harbored anti-Trump bias. He asked about the origins of her nickname “Masha,” querying, “Where did you get that name from?”
“Well, despite my posting to Ukraine, I’m actually half Russian, and it’s a Russian nickname,” said Yovanovitch.
Meadows then abruptly completed his round of questioning. “I yield back,” he said.

Perry Mason they are not.

One wonders whether Republicans are going to embarrass themselves by repeating these antics when the hearings go public. So we return to the initial question: Why are Republicans behaving like clowns? The answer is fourfold, I would suggest.

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First, they operate almost exclusively in the right-wing bubble of Fox News, where no one seriously contests bad or even absurd arguments. They have become entirely tone-deaf to how anyone outside the bubble might receive their specious arguments.

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Second, there is not a factual defense. The facts are largely undisputed: The president held up aid and a White House visit to force Ukraine’s president to make a public statement initiating an investigation of a political rival. Republicans might as well stipulate to the facts. The nonsensical “Read the Transcript” mantra taken up by Trump cultists suggests none of them have read it. It’s incriminating, a smoking gun as powerful as the Nixon tapes.

Third, Republicans really are not trying to convince anyone. House members from deep-red districts do not aim to persuade any longer. They focus on fending off primary challenges. They perform for Trump’s approval. They have given up and see no need, thanks to gerrymandering, to cultivate support beyond their hard-core base. They lack any moral compass or fidelity to the Constitution (i.e. a conscience) that would prompt them to take the impeachment proceedings seriously. Worse, they see nothing wrong in calling for the whistleblower’s identity to be revealed in violation of law, an act of witness intimidation as egregious as Trump’s.

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Fourth, the president is entirely incoherent; hence his lackeys are as well. The latter have come to think of themselves as minions, as surrogates, of the president, not independent thinkers in an equal branch of government. If Trump is incoherent, they are, too — just like his press secretary and other administration defenders.

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The question remains whether Senate Republicans want to adopt these embarrassing and ineffective tactics. Sadly, they seem to be contemplating an even more feeble argument: Extorting a foreign leader for personal, partisan gain isn’t impeachable. (If this is not, the Founders would not have included an impeachment clause that among other things references “bribery” — something of value (a Ukrainian oppo research exercise to help his reelection) in exchange for a public act (releasing aid).

A state’s boundaries, unlike a congressional district, cannot be gerrymandered, so some Republican senators have an interest in appealing to some voters outside their hard-core base. And some of them even cling to the notion that a Senate seat demands some level of intellectual honesty, personal decency and constitutional conviction. It will be interesting to see how many of them simply cannot bring themselves to mimic the idiocy of their House counterparts.

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