As the impeachment inquiry gains steam, President Donald Trump and his defenders are running their old playbook. It’s not a good playbook. It wasn’t all that convincing the first time around. But it worked once—and the modern Republican Party doesn’t have a lot of imagination for new arguments. And what the heck—if something was good enough for the Russia investigation, why wouldn’t it be good enough for, as House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes so rudely put it, “the low-rent Ukrainian sequel”?
The Trump defensive playbook has a few distinctive plays. There’s the allegation of a deep-state conspiracy. The demonization of an individual career official. The assertion that the relevant investigation was conceived in sin and is hopelessly tainted by it. The focus on throwing handfuls of spaghetti at the wall, rather than stitching together a coherent alternative narrative. And the radical refusal to see forests for their constituent trees.
The first play is that most familiar of presidential obsessions: the claim that an unelected deep state has been hell-bent on undermining first Trump’s 2016 campaign and then his presidency. Career government officials, in this story, have turned their immense power and tradecraft against the president, who is battling valiantly against the attempted coup from within his own government. The Russia-investigation version of this narrative had the deep state working with Barack Obama’s administration to engineer the appearance of Russian election interference and the Trump campaign’s collusion with it—and spying on the Trump campaign in the process. These days, if you listen to the president, the deep state is responsible for the legal troubles of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the emergence of the whistle-blower complaint regarding Trump’s conduct on Ukraine that kick-started the impeachment inquiry.