A good line is a good line, whatever your politics may be.

It’s funny and it’s sort of true by the logic of the GOP’s transformation into a Trump cult. To be a Republican in 2019 is to be pro-Trump; to be anti-Trump is to not be a Republican. If anything, Don Jr let Romney off easy by calling him a Democrat. Dad tends to use stronger language for people who make trouble for him politically.

I regret to inform you that Mitt is still at it:

Romney’s getting blasted by both sides for that. His, ah, fellow Democrats think he’s gutless for using language as soft as “misdirected” to describe GOP attempts to intimidate the whistleblower by threatening to out him. Whereas Republicans think he’s a traitor because he’s undermining Trump yet again. The whistleblower is a recurring villain in the president’s messaging as the actual testimony against him piles up; now here’s Romney sticking up for the guy, insisting that he be protected from retaliation (which is why we have whistleblower laws, supposedly). The legal question that continues to float through all debates over the whistleblower is whether Trump has a right to confront the witnesses against him. That’s a basic constitutional protection for a criminal defendant. Why isn’t Trump entitled to that protection when the person pointing a finger at him is anonymous?

Ken White considered that question earlier today on Twitter. He spent years as a federal prosecutor before becoming a defense lawyer so he’s seen the issue from both sides. Trump *would* have the right to cross-examine the whistleblower, White allows — if the whistleblower were a witness, which he isn’t (yet), and if this were a criminal proceeding, which it isn’t, and if we were at the trial stage, which we aren’t. But other than that:

Things could get interesting during the Senate trial, as Trump will likely argue that knowing who the whistleblower is does in fact constitute a key part of his defense. He may be part of a “deep state” conspiracy and he’s in cahoots with Schiff and he’s probably also in cahoots with Biden since he allegedly worked with him before. Therefore, there might be a defense argument that cross-examining him is important even if there’s no direct evidence from the whistleblower himself that ends up informing the House’s articles of impeachment. I wonder how John Roberts would rule on that.

And I wonder how nervous Senate Republicans would be to see Trump complicate their otherwise straightforward defense of him with conspiracy theorizing. McConnell and his caucus will want to argue, simply, that Trump had a legitimate public purpose for his quid pro quo and, even if he didn’t, that what he’s guilty of isn’t so dire as to warrant removal. Easy peasy, case dismissed. Trump’s mind doesn’t work that way, though. He’ll want revenge on the whistleblower for causing him this trouble and so he’ll try to drag him out into the public light knowing that the guy will be threatened every day for the rest of his life once he is. Even if his attempt to call the whistleblower to testify is defeated by Roberts, Trump can then start screaming that the process is rigged, yadda yadda, shortly before the Senate votes to acquit him anyway.

Anyway, it can’t be a coincidence that Republican efforts to unmask the whistleblower are getting more febrile the less important the whistleblower becomes to the case against Trump. Bill Taylor, Alex Vindman, Tim Morrison, and now even Gordon Sondland have testified to the truth of the claim in the whistleblower complaint that there was an attempt to pressure Ukraine to investigate Burisma. Even Morrison, who saw nothing improper about Trump’s phone call with Zelensky, admits that he had a “sinking feeling” when he learned the Ukrainians were being pressured for info on the Bidens and the 2016 election. The whistleblower complaint is tantamount to a tip to police that’s now been confirmed by eyewitness testimony; in a criminal investigation, the public wouldn’t care the slightest bit about a tipster’s identity or motive provided that his tip was borne out by evidence that can be used in court. But impeachment isn’t a criminal investigation, as White noted. It’s politics, and it serves Trump’s political interest to make the increasingly irrelevant whistleblower a greater focus of his messaging as the actual testimony before the House becomes harder to rebut. It’s a useful distraction from his own behavior towards Ukraine. If nothing else, turning the whistleblower into America’s greatest villain puts firsthand witnesses on notice of the sort of demagoguery and intimidation they’ll face afterward if they testify at trial.