Liberal and progressive pundits — and some Never Trump conservatives as well — have been highly critical of the silly, buffoonish theatrics that Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Rep. Devin Nunes of California and other far-right House Republicans brought to the first public testimony in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. But then, Jordan and Nunes weren’t trying to win over liberals, progressives or anti-Trump conservatives on Wednesday, November 13, when they aggressively attacked the testimony of two diplomats: Ambassador William B. Taylor (top U.S. ambassador to Ukraine) and the U.S. State Department’s George P. Kent (deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs). They were playing to Trump’s hardcore MAGA base, pushing emotional buttons rather than relying on substance.
For that matter, Jordan and Nunes weren’t trying to win over independents either. They were preaching to the converted, determined to show pro-Trump voters that they still have their backs.
Rep. Adam Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, knew what he was doing with Taylor and Kent’s testimony — and that testimony made a strong case for impeaching Trump. Schiff and other House Democrats showed exactly why Trump deserves impeachment: during a phone conversation on July 25, Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating a political rival — former Vice President Joe Biden — as well as his son, Hunter Biden. The testimony demonstrated that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine and made an investigation of the Bidens a condition of that aid.
Jordan and Nunes never disproved anything that Taylor or Kent had to say. Instead, they angrily insisted that the entire impeachment inquiry is one big fabrication on the part of partisan Democrats — and the way in which they said it was more important than the substance (of lack thereof) of what they were saying. Their inflammatory rhetoric, while short on facts, was clearly designed to fire up the MAGA base as much as possible.
During the testimony, Jordan and Nunes both promoted the ludicrous Crowdstrike conspiracy theory, which claims that the real interference in the 2016 presidential election came not from the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin, but from the Ukraine government. Never mind the fact that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in his in-depth report for the Russia investigation, made it abundantly clear that Russian officials aggressively interfered in the 2016 election.
Nunes referenced “Ukrainian election meddling” more than once. But when Kent was asked if there was any evidence of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election, the U.S. State Department diplomat responded, “To my knowledge, there’s no factual basis” for that claim. Kent even said, “To be honest, I had not heard of Crowdstrike” until after he read the transcript of Trump’s July 25 conversation with Zelensky.
Evidently, Kent doesn’t spend a lot of time listening to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ “Infowars” show.
Nunes indignantly insisted that Trump’s July 25 conversation with Zelensky was perfectly innocent, asserting, “We’re supposed to believe that President Trump committed a terrible crime that never actually occurred.”
Jordan asserted that it is horribly unfair that Schiff hasn’t told him the identity of the intelligence whistleblower who made the complaint that led to the impeachment inquiry. But the whistleblower’s identity, at this point, is irrelevant because Taylor’s testimony backed up everything in the whistleblower’s complaint.
Saying that Nunes and Jordan’s theatrics were silly and devoid of substance, however, is not saying that they weren’t effective as far as reaching the people they were intended to reach: the MAGA base. And so many of their talking points have been echoed in the right-wing media: the impeachment inquiry is a sham, Trump’s conversation with Zelensky was perfectly innocent, Crowdstrike is a real concern, Democrats are pursuing impeachment because they refuse to accept the 2016 election results.
Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has described Trump’s rhetorical style as a form of “gaslighting”: Trump and his sycophants will repeat nonsense over and over — and the goal is to overwhelm those who are listening. The type of “gaslighting” that Robinson describes works well if one watches Fox News religiously, lives in a Trumpian bubble and never seriously listens to what anti-Trump voices have to say.
That type of “gaslighting” was very much in evidence on November 13 with Nunes, Jordan and other House Republicans. Their theatrics were clearly aimed at the far-right Fox News/AM talk radio/Breitbart News audience. It’s easy to debunk much of what they Nunes and Jordan have had to say about the impeachment inquiry, but for those House Republicans, such theatrics serve a purpose: whipping the MAGA base into a frenzy at every turn and giving them reasons to get to the polls in November 2020. And one need only spend some time watching Fox News to see that it’s working.