Donald Trump set the tone for his defense when he said “I did nothing wrong.” That’s true, but the word “wrong” is a dark word that attaches to the President. It put him in a defensive posture that was doomed to give the Democrats an opening to impeach him.
This tone continued all through the public wrangling and even the “trial” in the Senate. We had Alan Dershowitz presenting a legal tour-de-force on why the Constitution requires either a crime or an act of otherwise manifestly criminal character for impeachment. There were arguments that “Obstruction of Congress” is pure B***S*** because the House gave up its legal options to force testimony in a headlong rush to beat the election clock. And, of course, there was the strange admission by Representative Green that “If we don’t impeach him, he’ll be re-elected.”
None of this presented Trump in a good light. And for one that Scott Adams (creator of “Dilbert” and author of Win Bigly) considers to be a “master persuader,” it’s almost inexcusable. How was it that the President missed a chance to execute the “high ground maneuver?”
The “high ground maneuver” is a rhetorical flourish where the recipient of a verbal attack agrees with the attacker, and then raises the stakes by making a stronger case in a way that supports the one originally attacked. In poker terms this would be, “I see your bluff and raise you.”
When Princess Pelosi declared that the Constitution says that the President is to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” Donald Trump should have jumped in with both feet. He might have said it like this.
“I welcome the Speaker’s call for me to follow the Constitution’s “take care” clause (Art 2, Sec 3). For far too long, Presidents have ignored their responsibility to root out corruption. Former VP Biden’s brag about extorting Ukraine to fire a prosecutor investigating a company where his son sits on the Board is likely just the tip of the iceberg. We have numerous reports of other corrupt practices involving US persons that must be investigated. To this end, I called on President Zelenskiy to honor our 1998 Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters by investigating corruption. The Bidens were mentioned only as the most public case of likely corruption. There are many others.
“I do not undertake this lightly. The burden imposed on the President by the “take care clause” is heavy. It makes me the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.
“We have received many reports of US political families being part of corrupt practices in Ukraine, including members of both parties. It is essential that we investigate fully in order to identify the guilty and clear the innocent. Ukraine’s participation in this project is essential and required by our treaty. Until our investigation is complete, we must not reveal any details, because premature reports could harm people who haven’t done anything illegal. But once we have solid information, you may rest assured that we will prosecute anyone we find committed illegal acts.
“I have instructed my chief deputy in this, the Attorney General, to vigorously pursue the truth as far and in whatever direction it leads until we are certain that all guilty persons have been prosecuted and all innocent people have been cleared. No one will be exempt, regardless of heritage, wealth, or political status. As the Speaker notes, “no one is above the law.”
Imagine what would have happened. The Democrats would have screamed about Trump’s call, but instantly he would have turned the tables. As the chief law enforcement officer of the US, his call for an investigation is clearly what he is required to do. If the Democrats complain, they are objecting to him doing exactly what the Constitution calls on him to do.
Democrats claim they are protecting the Constitution. But suddenly the high ground maneuver has put them in the position of attacking the Constitution. We expect this in the arguments about the Electoral College and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. But at least there the argument is about changing the Constitution. In Ukraine, they can’t make that claim, and the impeachment push would be completely changed. As long as Trump stays on message, the public will see that the Democrats have no case.
What we got was the classic counterpuncher. Democrats accused Trump of seeking foreign interference in the upcoming election. He missed the high ground, and found himself mounting a vigorous defense. He was Constitutionally correct in his defense, but optically deficient. It became the political equivalent of “I am not a liar!” And we know how well that works.
Editor’s note: This article was written about what the President should have done, but I believe the window of opportunity is still available at the upcoming State of the Union. Speechwriters at the White House, please take note.