As this is being written, Nancy Pelosi is leading the House Democrats down the path to impeaching president Trump. The Republicans have rushed or reluctantly shuffled to defend him. There are two main focuses for their defense: substance and process.
The substance defense is (or was) a rolling defense. The first line was to deny anything had happened, which ceased to be an option when the text of the call was released, and officials started admitting the facts in public. The second line is to deny that there was anything wrong with what was done. This defense has proven problematic, so the focus has been on the process defense.
The process defense, obviously enough, involves attacking the process used by the Democrats in the house. One argument is that the process is unconstitutional and unlawful and hence Trump should not be impeached. The obvious flaw with this argument is that impeachment is constitutional and lawful as per Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The constitution also specifies that the House has the sole power to impeach. Since this defense is directly contradicted by readily accessible facts, any power it has must be psychological—people will feel that it is good because it is a defense made by their side. Naturally, to think that it is defective because it is made by the other side would be an error—though the argument is defective.
Another defense is to attack the specifics of the process followed by the Democrats. Some of these are attempts to apply the standards of a criminal trial (facing the accuser and so on) to the impeachment process. This might be part of a intentional strategy to confuse the public (impeachment is not a criminal trial conducted by the judiciary and does not follow the same rules) or simple ignorance about how the process works. This sort of defense has no merit and draws all its influence from psychology.
In the current episode, the Democrats face the impossible task of crafting rules that the Republicans will accept—for there are no such rules (unless they guarantee that Trump is not impeached). As such, the Republicans can always complain that the process is unfair, because their position seems to be that any process would be unfair. This is not based in good reasons, but a matter of wanting their side to win.
Another defense has been to use ad hominem attacks. The main talking point seems, bizarrely enough, to accuse the Democrats of using a “Soviet-Style impeachment process.” This attack took me back to my younger days, when the Soviet Union existed and Russia was seen as an enemy. The fact that the Soviet Union does not exist does not undermine the “argument”, but the power of this attack is psychological. After all, the Soviets did not remove leaders through an impeachment process. This could also be taken as drawing an analogy between how the Soviet Union was run and the way the Democrats are acting—but this analogy breaks down rapidly. Those using this analogy do not carefully go through the points of similarity and offer arguments as to why these are bad, they merely offer an ad hominem comparison. It is also odd for the Republicans to bring up the Soviet Union so much, given the Russian issues faced by Trump.
It is certainly reasonable for Trump’s defenders to argue that there are unfair, immoral or problematic aspects to the process—but these need to be grounded in facts rather than mere rhetoric or factual errors (or lies). There is a general problem with trying to argue about the process—it is not specified in the constitution. When Bill Clinton was impeached, the Republicans created the process (and the Democrats complained—since their side was under attack). The Republicans were obviously fine with that approach when they were on the side trying to impeach the president. What has changed is, of course, that they are now playing defense. A seemingly sensible solution would be for congress to work out a set of rules when there is not an impeachment in progress and to agree to follow them the next time an impeachment arises. This is unlikely, since each side wants to craft the rules to its advantage the next time it happens. So when the Republicans try to impeach a Democrat, I will most likely be able to reuse most of this essay.