“Convicted of a crime I didn’t even commit. Hah! Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry? Do they?”

— Sideshow Bob, “The Simpsons,” Season 6, Episode 5, 1994

This rhetorical absurdity, originally intended as a joke on a TV cartoon, is now being trotted out in all seriousness by the GOP. What New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait has called the “Sideshow Bob defense” has become central to Republican efforts to shield President Trump from accusations of wrongdoing. Because the Ukrainian quid pro quo was ultimately unsuccessful, the argument goes, no crime was committed, even if one was attempted. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal wrote (apparently not joking): “Many people in the Administration opposed the Giuliani effort, including some in senior positions at the White House. This matters because it may turn out that while Mr. Trump wanted a quid-pro-quo policy ultimatum toward Ukraine, he was too inept to execute it.”

Chait has noted other examples. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), for instance, said: “Name me one thing that Ukraine did to release the money. Nothing.” Never mind Trump’s explicit request for “a favor” or that the aid may have been released because skeptical National Security Council staff members started raising questions.

And instances of this extraordinarily strained attempt at excuse-making keep coming. In an interview with The Washington Post, Nikki Haley reasoned: “There was no heavy demand insisting that something had to happen. So it’s hard for me to understand where the whole impeachment situation is coming from, because what everybody’s up in arms about didn’t happen.” In the end, “the aid flowed.”

Good point, Sideshow Bob.

The Sideshow Bob line is famous among fans of “The Simpsons,” now in its 31st season, but others may need some background. Sideshow Bob is a recurring character — tall and slim with huge, weird hair and voiced by actor Kelsey Grammer, whose upper-crust baritone gives the character a sophisticated elan. (Bob did go to Yale, after all.)

He was originally the TV sidekick to Krusty the Clown but got locked up when a scheme to frame Krusty for armed robbery was exposed by Bart Simpson (age 10). When released, Bob began a vendetta against Bart, trying to wreak vengeance on the boy — usually in one episode per season in the 1990s.

In the episode titled “Sideshow Bob Roberts” (I wish we had named it after a more memorable film than the mock-documentary “Bob Roberts”), scripted by Josh Weinstein and myself, Bob starts a grass-roots effort to get released from prison so he can run for mayor of Springfield, with the goal of tormenting the Simpson family. As part of this ultimately successful campaign, Bob calls in to the radio show of Rush Limbaugh-analogue Birch Barlow to decry the unfairness of being convicted of “attempted murder.” That’s when he mocks the crime as being comparable to “attempted chemistry.”

On the surface, the Sideshow Bob defense might sound reasonable to the majority of dolts in Springfield, U.S.A. After all, Robert Onderdonk Terwilliger (his full name) is one of the smartest men in town. No, they sure don’t give a Nobel Prize for “attempted chemistry” — and local oafs such as Barney Gumble and Cletus Spuckler probably fell hook, line and sinker for this faulty logic.

The citizens of Springfield are, as a whole, dummies. That’s because it is a comedy show. Sure, there are a few reasonable folks there (notably Lisa Simpson) to provide a jaundiced perspective on the hoi polloi, but a continuing theme of the series is that the citizenry is “nothing but a pack of fickle mush-heads,” in the words of their own Mayor Quimby, easily swayed by the lamest attempts at manipulation. Often, it’s right-wing manipulation — evidenced by the fact that they riot when presented with a statue of mild-mannered do-gooder Jimmy Carter, whom one resident decries as “history’s greatest monster.”

That the GOP has taken a cue from Sideshow Bob is shrewd, on one level. After all, Bob is wily enough to take advantage of widespread civic ignorance and quickly install himself as mayor in a rigged election. He’s savvy enough to know that in Springfield — and, perhaps, elsewhere in the United States? — a middle-aged white male wearing a tie and saying anything with some conviction will be believed by at least 55 percent of people, especially if they already want to believe it. (Sixty-five percent if he has a classy accent.)

Ultimately, though, Sideshow Bob’s lies are exposed by Bart and Lisa, in a plot we based on the Watergate scandal. (The kids meet a Deep Throat-style informant in a parking garage; a scene of them researching voting records echoes a shot from “All the President’s Men.” Yes, the parallels are getting uncanny.) In court, under intense questioning from the kids, Bob finally erupts in an outraged confession. Why did he deceive the town? “Because you need me, Springfield. Your guilty conscience may force you to vote Democratic, but deep down inside you secretly long for a coldhearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals and rule you like a king. That’s why I did this: to protect you from yourselves.” (I won’t get into an analysis of whether that line fits the current situation.) What Bob doesn’t say is that he’s also a scheming, egomaniacal narcissist who literally cannot stop himself from committing crimes. (I won’t get into an analysis of that, either.)

It’s hard to believe that the Sideshow Bob defense of Trump will be long-lived, as it fails to stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. It is literally a joke. (Still, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) felt obliged to stamp out any confusion during the impeachment hearing Wednesday. “Is attempted murder a crime?” he asked Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr. Laughing, Taylor responded: “Attempted murder is a crime.”)

Indeed, many in the GOP have pivoted to a new defense of the president: The latest argument is that famous corruption fighter Donald Trump just wanted to fight corruption wherever it may be found, with the assistance of his sidekick, famous corruption fighter Rudolph W. Giuliani. “Oh come on now, that’s too much. People won’t seriously fall for that,” Sideshow Bob might reply. And then, with an evil gleam in his eye: “ … Will they?”