Republicans have a new way of looking at crime

In the wake of Donald Trump’s felony conviction, Republicans are furious.

“Democrats cheered as they convicted the leader of the opposing party on ridiculous charges,” said House Speaker Mike Johnson. “This was a purely political exercise, not a legal one.”


Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida agreed. “If the defendant were not Donald Trump, this case would never have been brought, the judge would have never issued similar rulings, and the jury would have never returned a guilty verdict,” he wrote on the social platform X.

Kari Lake, an Arizona Republican running for the Senate, called the ruling “an outright mockery of the rule of law,” and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, currently vying to join the Trump ticket, said it was “Un-freaking-believable.”

Other Republicans aren’t just mad; they want revenge.

Stephen Miller, a top adviser to the former president, raged against the verdict on Fox News. “Every facet of Republican Party politics and power has to be used right now to go toe to toe with Marxism and beat these communists,” he said, blasting Democrats with his preferred terms of abuse for political opponents.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is also angling to ride with Trump as his running mate, slammed President Joe Biden — who had nothing to do with the trial — as “a demented man propped up by wicked and deranged people willing to destroy our country to remain in power.” It was time, Rubio concluded, rendering the message with fire emojis rather than actual words, to “fight fire with fire.”

And in National Review, John Yoo, the legal architect of the George W. Bush administration’s torture program, urged Republicans to retaliate against Democratic elected officials. “In order to prevent the case against Trump from assuming a permanent place in the American political system, Republicans will have to bring charges against Democratic officers, even presidents,” Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote.

At no point, you’ll notice, do Republicans deny that Trump is a criminal. They’ve made no effort here to defend his honor or to say he’s innocent of the charges levied against him. They almost seem to accept, as most Americans do, that the former president is guilty of fraud. But they don’t accept the verdict. They don’t accept the idea that Trump could be tried in a court of law on these charges. They reject the authority of the jury. For Republicans — no matter the law, no matter the evidence and no matter the testimony — the conviction is illegitimate. In their view, Trump is sovereign, and the law is not.

This gets to one of the real transformations in American politics since Trump came down that escalator to announce his campaign for president nine years ago this month. Trump ran as the embodiment of the legitimate people of the United States. He governed on behalf of those people — a narrow, exclusive people defined in racial, religious and ideological terms — deemed them “the People,” to whom the country rightfully belongs. He tied his authority less to the Constitution than to this quasi-mystical connection. He was “the people” and “the people” were him, and he could do anything on their behalf, up to and including an effort to overturn the constitutional transfer of power. What is an election — what is the Constitution itself — when set against the people as embodied in Trump?

This vision of Trump as tribune of the “real America” has trickled down from Trump’s most devoted acolytes to the rest of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

You see it in the Republican embrace of the Jan. 6 rioters, in the open skepticism of the results of the 2020 presidential election and the suggestion, coming from prominent figures on the political right, that there is no legitimate outcome short of a Trump victory in the 2024 presidential contest.

This is more than idle talk, of course. It demands action. If institutions — courts, bureaucracies and the electoral system — won’t bend to the people, as personified by Trump, then they must be bent toward him. They must be cowed, brought to heel. And so we’ve seen, over the past week, strident attacks on the legal system as illegitimate for its willingness to hold the former president to account, as well as legislation designed to circumvent it, should legal officials attempt to do so again.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan, wants to target prosecutors overseeing cases against Trump, while a group of House conservatives have pushed Johnson to hold a vote on a bill that would give current or former presidents the right to move any state case brought against them to federal court. A law like this would have allowed Trump to avoid a Manhattan jury and possibly even get a judge who owes his or her seat on the bench to Trump.

Separate from their attack on the legal system, Trump’s allies are also trying to undermine the infrastructure of elections throughout the country, challenging thousands of voter registrations in key swing states and hounding local officials who won’t arbitrarily drop voters from the rolls.

There are also the explicit plans to remake the federal administrative state in Trump’s image, so that it will operate as an extension of his will, regardless of what the law allows or what the Constitution permits. “What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” said Russell T. Vought, a Trump ally who ran the Office of Management and Budget under the former president and one of the figures involved in Project 2025, the Heritage Foundation’s blueprint for a second Trump administration.

Most of this effort to bend and break institutions in the name of Trump’s illiberal claim to personal authority is the opportunistic grasping of ideologues who see the former president as a vehicle for their aims. He will help them expel immigrants, destroy the welfare state and roll back the political and cultural settlements of the 1960s, the 1970s and beyond.

But among more ordinary supporters of Trump’s authoritarian designs, there is fear at work, too. Fear that the country has been lost. Fear that elections won’t be enough to win it back. And a belief, fueled by that fear, that democracy is an obstacle to putting the nation back on track.

Which is just to say, in another form, what we already know to be true: Trump can lose in November, but as long as millions of Americans feel this fear as deeply as they do, Trumpism will endure.

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