Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one, or so the parade of cable pundits have reminded us. Since Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, it’s been all politics—the inevitable, though by no means end result of hyper-partisan warfare raging long before Trump even took office. The accusations that Trump, when he urged Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden and his son as a “favor,” had committed an impeachable offense arrived before the evidence was even fully presented, the call for an investigation put forth by Democrats who have grown increasingly impatient as past opportunities have fizzled. The rejoinder from Republicans arrived just as quickly, as they chastised the Democrats for once again pursuing a biased agenda against a president who openly despises them. It’s a battle that will be fought entirely through loud, public grandstanding and quiet, backroom discussions—and because it’s a political process, everyone will be ever-mindful of how it’s going to hurt or benefit them.
For the Democrats, it’s easy. Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro can make no secret of their desires to see Trump booted from office, and so they haven’t. But spare a thought for our Republican leaders, for whom any defense of Donald Trump must be tempered with just enough wiggle room to allow for the possibility that he might actually be impeached, at which point they’ll have to amputate the limb they went out on to survive. Theirs is a tricky needle to thread, and not everyone is able to do it convincingly. Here are some of the Texas politicians who have stepped up to defend Trump, ranked from the gutsy to the gutless, with more than a few hedgers in between.
GUTSY: Representative Lance Gooden
The 36-year-old freshman congressman has been on the frontlines of defending Trump, even introducing a resolution to remove House Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler from his post mere hours after impeachment proceedings began. Gooden also appeared on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show the night of Pelosi’s announcement, before transcripts of Trump’s call were released. While Gooden couched his response in a “let’s-wait-and-see” attitude, he also offered a prediction, calling his shot with Babe Ruth levels of confidence: “On election night, Donald Trump gets reelected,” he told Cuomo. “And today is a milestone Democrats will regret.” You can’t say Lance Gooden didn’t put his cards on the table here, or that he showed any fear that this “milestone” might end up being his personal millstone, even so early in his career. He’s all in.
GUTSY: Representative Bill Flores
Flores, meanwhile, is on his way out, which means he’s got nothing to lose. He’s even been outspoken about Trump abusing his powers for personal gains a few times. So you might expect Flores to at least be open to the inquiry—or just sit this one out. But he’s actually been one of the more vocal critics, issuing a formal statement decrying the “sham” and “circus” of it all, followed by a flurry of tweets in which he points to a lack of explicit “quid pro quo.” Bonus: he says the “#Pelosi #WitchHunt hurts America!” and cackles that it “looks like #Biden is damaged goods!” At this point, Flores also has nothing to gain, especially, by going on the attack this close to retirement, even if he’s clearly banking on his loyalties being fondly remembered once he returns to the private sector. His tenaciousness thus speaks to the purity of his convictions (that Democrats suck).
GUTSY: Representative John Ratcliffe
Getting dropped as Trump’s pick for intelligence chief hasn’t chastened John Ratcliffe in the slightest when it comes to weighing in on that department, much as he wasn’t humbled by revelations that he’d wildly exaggerated his own credentials just to be considered for the job, or the fact that he’d propagated easily debunked conspiracy theories about an anti-Trump “secret society” within the FBI. The unflappable Ratcliffe has remained a doggedly vocal Trump defender—not only in decrying what he sees as “false accusations about crimes that didn’t occur and … evidence that doesn’t exist,” but also in questioning the validity of the whistleblower who lodged the complaint. And true to form, he’s taken it to whole ‘nother level, declaring that, by bringing the Ukrainian conversation into the light, Democrats have “unequivocally and irreparably harmed our national security and compromised an important ally.” You can always count on John Ratcliffe to go big, even after he’s been told to go home.
MILDLY GUTSY: Senator Ted Cruz
No longer the grandstander of old, Ted Cruz has transitioned lately into a more thoughtfully beard-stroking sort of provocateur. His defenses of Trump naturally adopt a more measured, woebegone tone. On his official Twitter account, Cruz lamented the Democrats’ relentless drive to impeach the president—even implying he had sympathy for Nancy Pelosi being “hounded” into doing it by far-left members of her party—which he believes has only waylaid the real work of government. Reflecting his newfound zeal for civility, Cruz has been just marginally sassier on his personal account, decrying the whole investigation as a Democratic “lynch mob” unsupported by the facts, and, in the ultimate Ted Cruz burn, responding to the announcement of the inquiry with a savage Kristen Wiig GIF. Cruz is, as usual, mostly trying to position himself above the fray.
MILDLY GUTSY: Representative Louie Gohmert
The night before the transcripts were released, Gohmert called into Tyler’s KLTV to provide a dry civics lesson on the mechanics of impeachment. He seemed to be taking the seasoned politician’s approach of droning on and on, until everyone is too consumed by daydreams and wishes for death to hear what you’re actually saying. But once the documents were out, Gohmert was newly emboldened enough to appear on right-wing pay channel One America News Network, anyway, where he invoked a list of old, familiar bogeymen (Hillary Clinton, Christopher Steele, Fusion GPS, Nellie Ohr) to argue that this was all another distraction from a long, sordid history of Democratic malfeasance. A bigger swing, definitely—but also, strangely soothing in its mantra-like repetition. So far, Gohmert’s defense strategy could still double as ASMR.
MARGINALLY GUTSY: Senator John Cornyn
At first, Cornyn similarly attempted to take the high road, dismissing the inquiry on the Senate floor as a politically motivated process, undertaken before either the transcript or complaint were released. Now, in the wake of those documents, he’s remained steadfastly unimpressed, telling Wall Street Journal reporter Lindsay Wise that the whistleblower’s statement “reads like a political diatribe as much as anything else.” He’s also homed in on the lack of firsthand accounts as his standard line of defense, rather than actually weighing in, one way or the other, on the president’s culpability. That’s Cornyn’s story and he’s sticking to it, refusing to engage with the actual content of the complaint because of its political intent—even going so far as to say, flat out, “the Senate will never convict President Trump,” regardless of what the inquiry might uncover, because that’s just the reality. As Cornyn mused, with typical insight, “Its [sic] all about politics, folks.”
MARGINALLY GUTSY: Representative Dan Crenshaw
For a take-no-prisoners, straight-shooting kind of guy who’s never afraid to scrap (ideologically) with his opponents, Dan Crenshaw has been surprisingly measured about this so far. Mostly he’s just been repeating the party line that the Democrats are clearly hellbent on taking down Trump by whatever means, and berating them for opening their inquiry prematurely. Even on his personal, more frequently pugnacious Twitter account, he’s adopted a milder tone of bemusement, saying only, “This impeachment inquiry seems worse for Biden than it is for Trump.” In addition to implying that it’s bad at all for Trump—verging dangerously close to sounding like a liberal!—Crenshaw then went on to “wonder” whether putting Biden’s dirty business in the mainstream was an intentional move orchestrated to “help Warren/Sanders..?” Crenshaw’s just thinking out loud here; don’t mind (or focus on) him.
MEH: Representatives Roger Williams, Ron Wright, and John Carter
These three congressmen all released separate statements, although they might as well have combined efforts. Carter, Williams, and Wright offered near-identical refrains calling out Democrats for their vendetta against Trump; scolding them for launching an inquiry before obtaining all the facts; and finally, invoking the many “real problems” being neglected so they can pursue their partisan agenda. It’s a templated expression of solidarity that should please the Trump supporters within their base, while leaving plenty of daylight between them and the president should things go south. And by essentially copying and pasting their deeply held convictions, they’re guaranteed to seem unremarkable enough as to be easily forgotten in the fog.
MORE GOOFY THAN GUTSY: Representative Mike McCaul
Taking that kind of conspiracy theorizing to a whole new level of nth-dimensional chess-playing, McCaul—along with eighteen other Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee—signed an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal asking Pelosi to halt investigations because “Impeachment Is What Vladimir Putin Wants.” It’s a defense as bold as it is baffling, essentially arguing that now is not the time for nasty political infighting, because it’s exactly that kind of division that Putin was hoping to sow. The Democrats—“intentional or not”—are thus playing right into his hands, distracting everyone from Putin’s aggressive forays into Crimea and Ukraine. As a rebuttal for impeachment, “it would make Vladimir Putin happy” is pretty outside the box, bordering on irrelevant. But you can’t deny it’s provocative. Grrr, you can just see Putin’s creepy little smile now!
GUTLESS: Representative Michael Burgess
One of the key points cited in that “Putin’s watching!” op-ed is the assertion that presidents have always been able to talk to other world leaders without anyone else being privy to their conversation. It’s a line of defense that was noticeably harped on in the White House’s leaked talking points email. And it comprised nearly the whole of Burgess’s statement to the Denton Record-Chronicle, where he suggested that the worst part of this whole mess is that it infringes on the president’s privacy: “The president should be able to speak to a foreign leader candidly and not have the contents of those conversations spill out into the public domain,” Burgess argued. Well, you can’t argue with that, largely because no one wants to.
This post has been updated because of Louie Gohmert’s slightly more gutsy statements in recent hours.