Trump's defenders are running out of options

Every American should be embarrassed, depressed, and/or disgusted by the responses of Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to a simple question: Is it appropriate for President Donald Trump to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival?

With the exception of Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe TRUST Act is a plot to gut Social Security behind closed doors Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Bring on the brokered convention MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment GOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Alaska) and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump beefs up impeachment defense with Dershowitz, Starr The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (R-Maine), when she is cornered, Republicans have ducked, dodged, or denied, often expressing outrage at the process used by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiREAD: House impeachment managers' trial brief Desperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Pelosi offers message to Trump on Bill Maher show: 'You are impeached forever' MORE (D-Calif.) and Chair of the Intelligence Committee Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffREAD: House impeachment managers' trial brief Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP MORE (D-Calif.). Going where people usually go when they conclude the facts do not support their side, they have also deployed the politics of distraction and “whatabout” assaults on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton Democrats plot new approach to win over rural voters The Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Rosenstein says he authorized release of Strzok-Page texts MORE and “Never Trump” members of the “Deep State.” Evasive non-answer answers to reporters’ questions about substance by people such as Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Koch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 MORE (R-Colo.), Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyPoll: Overwhelming majority say news media making US more politically divided Bill Kristol on McSally calling CNN reporter a liberal hack: 'I guess I'm liberal' McSally dismisses calls to apologize to CNN's Raju for 'liberal hack' comment: 'Called it like it is' MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstDrug price outrage threatens to be liability for GOP Progressive groups target eight GOP senators in ad campaign ahead of impeachment trial GOP senators introduce resolution to change rules, dismiss impeachment without articles MORE (R-Iowa) and Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Koch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says MORE (R-N.C.) are painful to watch or read. Equally painful was the stunt played by 30 belligerent members of the House, who marched into a committee hearing in violation of rules promulgated in 2015 by a Republican majority.

And it’s getting worse. Here are two recent, and especially egregious examples:

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Pressed by CNN reporter Manu Raju about whether it was appropriate for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE to ask Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly-elected president of Ukraine, to investigate Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger pens op-ed in defense of Biden: 'I stuttered once, too. I dare you to mock me' MORE and Hunter Biden in exchange for the release of a military aid package passed by Congress, Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiBillboards calling on House Republicans to 'do their job' follow members home for Thanksgiving Trump's defenders are running out of options Avoiding the snake in the grass: Let's not allow impeachment to divide us MORE (R-Nev.), who had expressed support for an impeachment inquiry — and then walked it back — wondered why the Democrats had no plans to call the whistleblower to testify. “You didn’t answer my question…,” Raju responded. Amodei shot back: “I disagree with your conclusion. It’s a conclusion, not a question.” Raju tried again: “Is it okay for the president to ask a foreign country to investigate the Bidens?” Amodei repeated his non sequitur: “That’s not a question,” adding, “If you want to interview yourself, go ahead.”

On Monday, with the release of the opening statement of Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on Trump’s National Security Council, to the House Intelligence Committee, in which he declared that he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s bi-partisan support of Ukraine,” former Congressman Sean DuffySean DuffyGOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts Ex-Tea Party lawmakers turn heads on K Street Why the Wisconsin special election could decide the 2020 presidential election MORE (R-Wis.) joined Fox & Friends Trumpers in trashing the foreign service officer (and lieutenant colonel in the Army), who fled Ukraine with his father and twin brother when he was 3 years old, served several overseas tours as a U.S. infantry officer, and received a Purple Heart after he was wounded in Iraq: “It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense,” Duffy proclaimed. “I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy… We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from… He has an affinity for the Ukraine.”

Alas, it may not be true that Republicans have nowhere to go but up.

Following the House vote to lay out impeachment procedures on Thursday, Republican members of Congress — to say nothing of American voters — may find process arguments less compelling. In any event, President Trump has suggested they “go into the details of the case rather than process. Process is good, but I think you ought to look at the case.”

If they do, one wonders, will they acknowledge, at least tacitly, that the evidence of a quid pro quo is overwhelming?

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If past is prologue, Republicans may well double-down on the lousy hand their president has dealt them.

That said, Republican members of Congress whose re-election is in doubt, I suspect, will join the growing number of their colleagues who have announced their retirement and choose the only plausible strategy left to them.

What the president did was wrong, they will say, probably softly and off-camera, and then declare that the offense is not impeachable. In any event, they will add, the voters should decide whether Donald Trump should have a second term.

The rest will keep their fingers crossed and hope against hope that more shoes — or even heavier objects — don’t drop before November.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of Rude Republic:  Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.