"The president’s new at this. He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.” — U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (D-Wisc.), at a Thursday press conference held during former FBI Director James Comey's Capitol Hill testimony
For years, we've been accustomed to Republicans chest-beating about their strength. The perception of this has been one of the party's greatest assets, as many of their policy proposals, like cutting taxes for the rich and ripping health care away from 23 million Americans, poll terribly.
There was Ronald Reagan telling Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down that wall" and end communism in the late 1980s. There was George W. Bush strutting across an aircraft carrier to (prematurely) celebrate victory in the Iraq war in 2003. There was John McCain declaring he'd put the "Country First" during the '08 election, which everyone believed because he'd survived the Hanoi Hilton.
In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned as the ultimate alpha male. "I alone can fix it," he promised with his trademark braggadocio, while disparaging his rivals for failing to compete with his virility (remember his digs at "Little Marco" Rubio and calling Jeb Bush "low energy"?) During a March 2016 campaign rally, Trump made a big point of stressing he was 6'3'', not 6'2." And at the GOP debate in Detroit, Trump bragged about the size of his hands in such an awkward soliloquy that CNN cast subtlety aside and ran this headline: "Donald Trump defends size of his penis."
Now the president finds himself engulfed in a growing scandal over his campaign's ties to Russia, which is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, and a possible coverup. He admitted in a TV interview that the "Russia thing" was on his mind as he decided to fire FBI Director James Comey.
Comey was on Capitol Hill Thursday to testify and it was riveting. The former director said that Trump told “lies, plain and simple,” about he and the FBI as part of a coverup for his firing. He revealed the president had said he "hoped" he would drop his investigation, which Comey "took as direction." Comey also said there was "no doubt" that the Russians were behind the Democratic National Committee hacking last year, which sowed party divisions between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters that Republicans exploited.
So it's somewhat breathtaking that as the walls close in on Trump and his allies, Republicans are launching a "Fredo defense." Like the slow brother in "The Godfather," the president just doesn't really know what he's doing (although, fittingly, Fredo insisted until the day he was whacked that he was really the smart one).
This is not an exaggeration, as you can see by the quote from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) above. He's really arguing that Trump is "new at this" and therefore what he did was OK. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former proud Never Trumper, tried out a version of the Fredo defense before the hearing: “I don't think [Trump] colluded with the Russians because he doesn't collude with his own staff." Look for this to become a popular talking point from the same folks that excoriated former President Barack Obama as "Obambi."
In case you're looking for a laugh through your tears, Democratic activist Kaivan Shroff sums the whole thing up nicely.