The Thankless Task of Defending Donald Trump

It's always awkward when the chickens come home to roost

It’s always awkward when the chickens come home to roost

If there is one thing to take away from the 5.5 hour hearing of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, it’s this: The Republican’s defense to the confirmation that Trump ties to Russians are under investigation was to demand an investigation on how the news became public. Let’s be clear about this: The Republicans’ defense is that the scanda shouldn’t have been disclosed; it should have been kept secret. We’re not supposed to know.

It has to be a thankless task defending the indefensible. Unless your are a gormless twit like Kelly Anne Conway, unaware of just how stupid you sound, or a complete hack, like Sean Spicer, it has to be tedious and unrelenting. Each Trump twitter storm creates new headaches for those who want us to see Trump as “presidential.” Conway can babble about “alternative facts,” and Spicer can make up air quotes, but guys like Rep. Trey Gowdy (R. South Carolina), are supposed to be statesmanlike,1 or at least re-electable, and they have to find a more politically defensible response.

The best they could come up with was to demand an investigation of leaks of classified material. Never mind that there’s no evidence any evidence was in fact classified, or who might have leaked it. They demanded an investigation. FBI Director James Comey wasn’t having any of it, but it was the only “defense” that the Republicans had so they kept throwing it out there.

The trouble with the defense is the same problem President Nixon had with the myriad Watergate leaks: the scandal is so explosive that the means by which it became public is immaterial. As defenses go, it’s incredibly lame. It not only says you’re hiding something; it also says you’re incompetent to stop word of what you are hiding from getting out. Protesting that the “real story” is the leaks is a transparent attempt to distract from an investigation of treason. The hard fact is that when cops are investigating a murder, it doesn’t matter who tipped off the cops.

There’s a technical term for this approach to a serious problem: “deflection.” Deflection is an intense focus upon and antagonism toward the legitimacy of the actions, feelings, and beliefs of others, especially the partner, and an intense misdirection of attention away from the accuser’s arguments of disclosures. It’s a desperate rhetorical technique, because once your audience understands what you are doing, you’ve lost. Which suggests that Rep. Gowdy and his fellow Republicans are getting desperate.

Which is why WC chose the photo he did to head this story.


  1. For a given definition of “statesman;” this is the Trump Era, after all.