The news that Ohio Republican Jim Jordan has been swapped onto the House Intelligence Committee so that he can participate in the impeachment inquiry tells you everything you need to know about the GOP game plan.
A former wrestling coach at Ohio State, Jordan has been accused by several former wrestlers, and one referee, of turning a blind eye to the serial sexual abuse of students perpetrated by a team doctor.
In any morally sane world, such charges would be enough to convince Republican leadership to keep Jordan far from the proceedings.
But in the world of Donald Trump’s GOP, accusations involving sexual predation are no longer cause for alarm. Heck, they’re par for the course.
Tapping Jordan signals, rather obviously, that the GOP wants to turn the impeachment hearings into a media event. They need a guy like Jordan around, because he can froth and scowl and insinuate for the cameras.
What they want, in other words, is a repeat of the Brett Kavanaugh Show, in which the GOP was able to shift the media’s focus away from the accusations against the beer-loving Supreme Court nominee through the strategic use of rage and distraction.
If you want an indication of just how well it worked, take a look at how Rachel Maddow, that darling of liberal media, covered the hearing. She devoted the first 23 minutes of her show to Kavanaugh’s raving. The accusation of sexual assault lodged by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — the ostensible subject of the hearing — received five minutes.
In fact, the mainstream media wound up focusing nearly all its attention on the indignant denials and paranoid fulmination of Kavanaugh and his Senate wingmen.
Facing a fact pattern that makes his abuse of power glaringly obvious, Trump will look to Jordan and his comrades to create a similar spectacle.
Rather than asking the witnesses about the scheme Trump allegedly hatched with Rudy Giuliani, to extort the Ukrainians to interfere in the 2020 election by smearing his political rival, they will use their allotted time to push conspiracy theories and decry Democrats and the media.
Trump will be hard at work, too, doing what he does best: jamming the news cycle with a torrent of unhinged tweets and accusations. Chances are, he’ll also squeeze his loyal Attorney General William Barr to release the findings of an investigation on the origins of the Mueller Report. Trump understands that the mainstream media simply cannot resist amplifying his feuds, his attacks, his disinformation.
This leaves Democrats with a challenge unlike anything faced by previous impeachment investigators. They have to find a way to elevate fact over affect, to keep the focus on the president’s blatant abuses of power, not the GOP noise machine.
Chairman Adam Schiff has decided, wisely, to structure the hearings in a manner that will allow for sustained questioning of the witnesses, rather than five-minute bursts of grandstanding.
Schiff would do well to recognize that these hearings will be received primarily as a television show, and to act accordingly. He should be prepared, for instance, to pre-emptively blow up the most absurd of Trump’s alibis and conspiracy theories.
If Trump’s July 25 call to President Zelensky was so “perfect,” why did panicked White House officials scramble to hide the call notes on a classified server? Why were so many of his staffers — from career diplomats to military officers to former National Security Advisor John Bolton — horrified? If Trump has nothing to hide, why won’t he testify under oath, and allow his top staffers to, as well?
Schiff should explain why the Congress approved military aid for Ukraine in the first place, and how Trump intervened and perverted our foreign policy into a re-election scheme. He should state why Trump’s attempts to extort Ukraine for political dirt ultimately failed (hint: he got caught).
And he should challenge our Fourth Estate, explicitly, not to promote the noxious propaganda the GOP will spout to obscure the president’s crimes.
His regime has endured largely because he has compelled so many Americans to embrace his monstrous cynicism as their own. The impeachment inquiry may not result in his removal from office. Nonetheless, it will be a triumph if Schiff and his colleagues can keep Donald Trump from bankrupting our Constitution.