If it was your instinct to roll your eyes and laugh when the likes of Doug Collins, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs and the rest were going all over the place, but mostly off the walls, as they ripped into Robert Mueller, don’t kid yourself: this was all a deliberate show. Look at the pattern of questioning. When the Democrats spoke, they praised Mueller, thanked him for his service, asked him to read from the report, then did so themselves, and concluded that 1) Trump was not exonerated and 2) Trump would have been indicted, were he not a sitting president. In any normal world, this would have been quite a good morning’s work for the House Judiciary Committee.
However, what the Democrats were doing was one show, and the Republicans were engaged in an altogether different narrative. Look for their pattern: when it came their time to question Mueller they 1) yelled at him 2) ranted about the origins of the Steele dossier, which Mueller refused to comment on 3) concluded that Trump and his inner circle were the victims of unfair prosecution, i.e. Trump’s “witch hunt.”
Now, this is a crucial point: Mueller made it crystal clear ahead of time that he was only going to address issues already covered within the parameters of the report and the letter from the DOJ ratified that. Nevertheless, the likes of Jim Jordan, Louie Gohmert, and Matt Gaetz deliberately ignored those ground rules and went for Mueller’s throat, demanding that he speak about the Steele dossier or the origins of the investigation, because those are the talking points and sound bites that they need for Fox News. You don’t need a crystal ball to know that Fox is going to paint Mueller’s testimony as him refusing to give the good congressmen the answers they deserved, because he is hiding some conspiracy to persecute Donald Trump. QAnon, here we come.
Chris Cillizza at CNN said that “the whiplash is stark. And means — stop me if you’ve heard this before — that people will likely hear what they want to hear coming out of this hearing.”
This is exactly what the Republicans are depending upon. They need to give their constituents bread and circus in order to get reelected and the truth is nothing more than an obstacle to be gotten over so that the true work can begin, that of staying in power. That is who and what the GOP is. Make no mistake, when today’s Republicans behave like complete lunatics, there is method in their madness. We saw it during the Kavanaugh hearing when Lindsey Graham was foaming at the mouth, alongside a yelling Kavanaugh, and we saw it again today. Playing outraged and wounded makes an emotional connection with the base. It all plays back to Trump’s narrative of Evil Democrats trying to turn America into a socialist country and all that blather. The injured party always gets sympathy, or at least noticed, and that’s why they did it.
Republicans are counting upon the circus act that the GOP reps in congress put on this morning to get beyond the very damning evidence presented, that the Mueller report never said that there was “no collusion” and most importantly what it says about obstruction.
California Democrat Ted Lieu hit it out of the ballpark when he got an unequivocal assent from Mueller on the subject of whether the reason that Mueller did not even consider indicting Trump on obstruction was because of the OLC memo that a sitting president cannot be indicted. CNN:
That contradicts repeated assertions by Barr that the OLC ruling was not the only reason that Mueller didn’t indict Trump. It also seemingly contradicts a May joint statement from spokespeople for the special counsel’s office and the Department of Justice
that said this: “The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice. The Special Counsel’s report and his statement today made clear that the office concluded it would not reach a determination — one way or the other — about whether the President committed a crime. There is no conflict between these statements.”
It has been said many times that Democrats understand policy and sociology whereas Republicans understand psychology. This started becoming evident in the days of Nixon when for reasons unfathomable to this day, the Republican party began to be defined as the party of the working man — and that ludicrous fallacy continues to this day, with Trump. Nixon neatly engineered that schism with his innuendo, in a nutshell, that the Democrats were the party of blacks and browns and others that wanted to take the white man’s job and we see the full flower of the fruits that Tricky Dick planted in the current Rethug inhabiting the White House. Point being, from that day to this, many simple minded souls pick up on the identity politics of fear and these are, generally speaking, people who don’t take the time to check out the facts of any given situation before they make an emotional decision and go into a voting booth. This is exactly the demographic that Fox News targets and today’s performance in Congress has just assured debate fodder for the denizens of the curvy couch, Hannity, and all the others for weeks to come.
Mueller’s performance, on the other hand, was not the least bit histrionic. It was low-key to the point of seeming weak at times. The only thing that momentarily brought him out of his shell was when Florida Republican Greg Steube accused Mueller of hiring Democrats. To that Mueller replied that, “I’ve been doing this 25 years and I’ve never had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It’s not done.” So much for Trump’s 17 Angry Democrats trope.
The Democrats underscored a few crucial key points of the Mueller report, make no mistake about that. But the Republicans also succeeded in their brand of denial and dissension and so this morning’s testimony was a big win for them as well. All in all, it was more ammunition for the culture war.
Let’s see what happens this afternoon. As the Terminator said, “We’ll be back.”