The supposed intellectual heavyweights of today’s conservative movement are pushing hard on a defense of President Donald Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine that argues Trump did not extort a foreign country into launching an investigation of his political opponent — because he is too stupid to do something so elaborate and systematic.
While Wednesday’s first round of impeachment inquiry hearings was still going on, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro rolled out this peculiar line of advocacy on his podcast. “I don’t actually see objectively that Trump has ever had the level of intent necessary to do anything,” Shapiro said, adding with a laugh: “I don’t think that he’s ever had the level of intent to put a — to eat a hamburger. I think that it’s half-accident when he eats a hamburger.”
Media Matters published a story on this emerging development last week, with the somewhat jocular title “New right-wing defense: Trump is too incompetent to be impeached.” (We also explained why this proposition — summed up as “no harm, no foul” — simply doesn’t work.)
But ironically, today’s column in The Washington Post by Marc Thiessen, a Fox News contributor and former speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration, literally takes on that very same phrasing: “Incompetence is not an impeachable offense.”
What we saw on display Wednesday were two dedicated, experienced career foreign policy officials who had been desperately trying to figure out what the president wanted — and inferring his intentions based on snippets of information from others. But their efforts to divine Trump’s desires presume that the president knew what he wanted. It’s not clear he did. His handling of Ukraine seemed less the execution of an intelligible plan than a chaotic mishmash of constantly changing urges and demands. According to Sondland, “President Trump changes his mind on what he wants on a daily basis.”
The Wall Street Journal published an editorial Thursday that called Trump’s decision to have his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani “lobby” Ukrainian officials “dumb” and “self-destructive,” but argued that his actions were not impeachable in part because, “Like much else in this Administration, Mr. Trump’s worst impulses were blocked.”
Mr. Giuliani was hardly quiet about his efforts, and it appears that most of the American bureaucracy had heard something about it. Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, opposed it. In the end the aid was delivered and Mr. Zelensky never began a corruption investigation. Like much else in this Administration, Mr. Trump’s worst impulses were blocked.
For all this talk, however, it remains to be explained why it’s a good thing to say that an incompetent person should legitimately continue to hold office.
And of course, there’s always an old Trump tweet about everything: