Trump saw an opportunity to strong-arm a weaker country into helping him win reelection, he abused his presidential authority to coerce it into doing so, and then he and his advisers sought to hide what they had done in order to maximize the public impact of the conspiracy. This plot, spearheaded by Giuliani, had already drawn credulous coverage from sympathetic reporters, and would likely have succeeded had the anonymous whistle-blower not registered a complaint exposing the scheme on September 9, which forced the Trump administration to release the aid to Ukraine on September 11.
A president who was genuinely opposed to U.S. entanglement in Ukraine, concerned about corruption, or involved in an internal struggle with bureaucrats over the ideal policy toward Ukraine would not have released the aid, because those concerns would have remained unaddressed. A president defying the bipartisan war lobby, seeking to prevent U.S. aid from being misused, or seeking to develop a better Ukraine policy would have had no reason to be concerned by the complaint. But the aid was released because a corrupt scheme to defraud the American people had been exposed, and so withholding it served no further purpose.
Trump’s defenders, having previously insisted that there was no “quid pro quo” involved in the president’s effort to extort Ukraine using taxpayer dollars, are slowly shifting to insisting, as much of the president’s base already believed, that Trump did nothing wrong. This is of a piece with the general anti-democracy trend in the Republican Party, which justly fears that the majority of the country no longer supports its agenda, and that extreme measures must be taken to shield its grip on power from democratic accountability.
The Republican Party has responded to the increasing diversity of the electorate with an accelerating intolerance for ethnic and religious minorities, and with elaborate schemes to disenfranchise rival constituencies and rig election rules to its advantage. Crucial to this effort is its conviction that the Republican electorate is the only one that can confer legitimacy on elected officials, and that the party’s political opponents are no longer wrong but fundamentally illegitimate, faithless usurpers with no right to determine the direction of the country. This has manifested in the quasi-religious dogma that Trump represents the will of Real America, and therefore defiance of his will is itself a form of treason.
Adam Serwer: Trump's white-nationalist vanguard
Believing that Republican officials will be convinced by the evidence proffered by Trump’s own staff and political appointees is a mistake, because the underlying facts are not genuinely in dispute. Trumpists are not operating from an ethical framework that even allows acknowledgment that the president is capable of being guilty. Trump is the nation, and the nation cannot commit treason against itself. On the contrary, it is Joe Biden who is guilty of betrayal, defying the tribune of the people by seeking to run against him, and it is Trump’s treacherous staff who convict themselves of treason with every statement that implicates the president. The more evidence of Trump’s misdeeds the Democrats uncover, the more they reveal themselves as traitors. For Trumpists, there is no higher patriotism than bending to Trump’s will, and no more base corruption than defying it.