In response to the Jan. 6 House committee hearings, Republicans are embracing an adage that has served dependably for millennia in sports and war: "The best defense is a good offense."
And the less defensible your position, the more attractive is this ancient maxim.
Thus, when former President Donald Trump produced a 12-page response to the hearings, he begins to defend himself only after four hefty paragraphs that assert the dire condition into which the nation has fallen since he left office. Of course, he blames it all on President Joe Biden.
Thus, when former Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway had an opportunity to defend Trump on the June 10 edition of Bill Maher's "Real Time," she put most of her energy into arguing that Biden is a "terrible" president.
Biden wasn't my first choice for president, but I do not share the opinions of Biden expressed by Trump, Conway and nearly any Republican politician who takes to the podium these days. In fact, I could make a decent defense of the proposition that Biden is a better president than was Trump.
But I decline to do so because the far larger point is that the comparative competence and differing agendas of Biden and Trump are entirely irrelevant to the matters before the Jan. 6 committee.
And confusing competence or political agenda with Trump's malfeasance on Jan. 6 leads to stunningly irrational positions.
William Barr is a good example. During his tenure as Trump's attorney general, Barr was a loyal enabler. But when he testified under oath before the Jan. 6 committee, Barr was unequivocal: After the 2020 election, he told Trump that his claims of election-stealing fraud were nonsense and B.S.
In fact, Barr testified he believes Trump had "become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff."
Once someone detaches from reality, it's really hard to reattach. And yet, in a jaw-dropping anomaly, Barr told Newmax's Sean Spicer in April that if Trump is "the nominee I would vote for him over the Democrat."
Another example: Mark Esper served as defense secretary during the Trump administration. In his memoir, "A Sacred Oath," Esper reveals that Trump speculated about firing missiles into Mexico to destroy drug labs, imagining that he could keep it secret.
Esper worried that Trump might misuse the military on Election Day by ordering troops to seize ballot boxes. He reports that Trump asked him about the protesters demonstrating in response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020: "Can't you just shoot them?"
Esper sums up Donald Trump this way: "He is an unprincipled person who, given his self-interest, should not be in the position of public service."
And yet, after making these and similar allegations on Bill Maher's "Real Time," Esper said he could not bring himself to vote against Trump. He would rather have him back in office than support the "progressive" Democratic agenda.
One thing the Jan. 6 committee hearings make clear: No one can accurately evaluate or understand Trump's attempt to reverse the 2020 election without separating politics, agenda and competence from that attempt.
Liberals versus conservatives is just traditional politics in America. Jan. 6 was something else entirely. Barr, Esper and other Republicans are failing to acknowledge that attempting to illegally -- and violently -- overturn an election is a violation of democracy that far exceeds mere political differences or competence.
A mob chanting "Hang Mike Pence," incited by a vindictive president in service of a scheme that he knew to be illegal, approached to within 40 feet of our fleeing vice president. Had the mob found Pence, it is delusional to imagine that it would not have attacked and possibly killed him.
In light of this, Biden's competence and political agenda are completely irrelevant. Vote for Trump in 2024 if you wish, but do not use an evaluation of Biden's performance, whether good or bad, as a bogus rationale to put Trump, a man clearly unfit for office, back in the White House.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at [email protected]