But regardless of the lawyerly rhetorical contortions Democrats have performed to make the charge stick, “bribery” doesn’t describe what is alleged to have occurred here. The allegation is that the president misused his authority to secure domestic political advantage, and he did so by withholding rewards Ukraine might expect if it were to, in the whistleblower’s words, “play ball.” The benefit he might have achieved from Ukraine could be construed as material in nature, but the actions in which he engaged to secure that benefit look more like blackmail than solicitation.
By adopting this message, they’ve given even Republicans who are honestly skeptical of the president’s actions a reasonable way to avoid turning on their team. On this, the comments of retiring Republican Rep. Will Hurd are instructive. This week, Hurd became the first congressional Republican to issue an unqualified critique of how the president conducted himself in negotiations with his Ukrainian counterpart, calling the president’s conduct “bungling” and “misguided.” At the same time, however, he took refuge in the Democratic Party’s verbal overreach. “An impeachable offense should be compelling,” Hurd said. “I have not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.”