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Bruce Castor: The Disaster Artist

Explaining what just happened. And why.
February 9, 2021
(Hannah Yoest)

Bruce Castor’s opening statement in defense of former President Donald Trump was one of the worst presentations I have ever seen by a public speaker, in any context.

On style, he was akin to a checked-out, tenured college professor who did no preparation for a lecture that had been designed by his TA. His manner was listless and utterly devoid of charisma—halting mumblecore, with Castor frequently pausing for applause. (There was none.) He would have had more gravitas had he been replaced with the filter of a regal kitten.

Castor’s argumentation was so indolent that it made Sleepy Joe Biden look like the Energizer Bunny on meth.

His substance was not much better, which Castor seemed to acknowledge in this admission against interest at the end of his statement:

“We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought the House impeachment managers’ presentation was well done and I wanted you to know that we have responses to those things,” he said.

Maybe he should have stuck with the original, because it is hard to summarize what exactly Castor’s argument in defense of Trump was.

Don’t take my word for it. Trump supplicant Alan Dershowitz literally told the gentle viewers of Newsmax, “There is no argument. I have no idea what he is doing.” Newsmax cut away from the proceedings to spare their audience. Though it’s not clear from what. Was it Castor’s ineptitude? Or his referring to Donald Trump as “former president”? Or his admission that Trump was “removed from office by voters”—voters who were “smart”?

None of that could have made former President Trump happy. Maybe he should come and defend himself?

According to Google, Castor is just 59 years old—a spring sloth, by the standards of the legal profession. But you might have thought he was a nonagenarian with declining mental acuity. He began anecdotes only to abandon them. He took meandering digressions—remember what a record player was? His allegories were hard to decipher. At one point early in the argument, he seemed to imply that Trump’s crimes were more akin to manslaughter than murder. (Agree!) He expressed outrage over the censure of Ben Sasse by the Nebraska GOP. (Also Agree!) but didn’t seem to understand why or by whom Sasse had been censured, bizarrely suggesting that the Nebraska judiciary had something to do with it.

Castor started one sentence by saying that he originally planned to use the phrase “release the whirlwind” but then realized it had already been taken. (Presumably someone warned him that it would sound too much like Sidney QAnon Powell’s “release the Kraken.”) Castor repeatedly spoke to his friend “Pat” (that is, Senator Toomey) off camera, making asides that he himself acknowledged weren’t to the point.

In the end Castor’s case for Trump might be generously described as follows:

  • Punting on the specifics of the constitutionality question that Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Col.) skillfully obliterated during the House managers’ presentation.
  • Lecturing the senators about comity and friendship.
  • Arguing that the voters already removed Trump from office (before the insurrection) despite the fact that the insurrection was premised on the Big Lie that Trump himself still maintains.
  • Reminding people repeatedly that he is pals with Pat Toomey.
  • Ignoring the merits of the case against Trump altogether.

And so, when you get right down to it, it really isn’t Bruce Castor’s fault, is it?

If Trump could be defended on the merits, he would be. And if he’d been a less dangerous demagogue, then he would have been able to get a better lawyer to take his case.

The reality is that almost none of Trump’s defenders are attempting to defend him on the merits. Marco Rubio is pretending to be upset that the Senate isn’t working on other things. Lindsey Graham and Sean Hannity are pretending that equally impeachable things were done by Eric Holder, Cory Booker, and Maxine Waters (just to pick three Democrats completely at random). Rob Portman says what Trump did was bad, just not bad enough to do anything about.

So what we have is an impeachment trial where both sides are more or less stipulating that Trump’s actions are indefensible. But Republicans can’t say that out loud, because they live in fear of their own voters.

And that’s how you get the inept, incompetent, ill-fitting, hapless, ineffectual, meandering, bumbling Bruce.

UPDATE: CNN reports that President Trump shared this assessment and was screaming at his television during the presentation. Castor’s failings also cost Trump the support of Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy who voted against the former president on the question of constitutionality citing the legal team’s poor arguments.

“If anyone disagrees with my vote and would like an explanation I ask them to listen to the arguments presented by the House Managers and former Pres. Trump’s lawyers. The House managers had much stronger constitutional arguments. The president’s team did not.” Sen. Cassidy

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump, communications director for Jeb Bush 2016, and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.