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May 30, 2024, 9:42pm EDT
politics

A taxonomy of Republican rage against the Trump verdict

REUTERS/STEPHANI SPINDEL
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The News

Donald Trump’s criminal conviction in New York threw the Republican Party into a state of rage.

Congressional Republicans and their leaders called the verdict — guilty, on 34 different counts of falsifying business records — “unAmerican,” “rigged,” and a “sham.” Rivals who Trump crushed in the GOP presidential primary called it an “injustice” from a “kangaroo court.” Candidates on the 2024 ballot raced to condemn it; Maryland U.S. Senate nominee Larry Hogan, who alone urged “respect” for the verdict, was instantly denounced by Trump campaign manager Chris LaCivita.

As Trump left the courtroom, the WinRed donor portal preferred by Republicans crashed. “Every single one of my friends has donated,” said Carlos Trujillo, a former ambassador for the Trump administration. Scores of elected Republicans had pointed to the home page for Trump’s joint fundraising committee, which spent millions of dollars on his legal fees this year.

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Know More

The Republican reactions to the conviction of their presumptive nominee fit into five categories. Here’s a taxonomy, roughly arranged by intensity — from suggesting that Trump made this problem for himself, to asking whether twelve New York jurors just ended the American experiment.

Time for plan B. In 2018, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks lost a Senate primary after Trump allies’ TV ads attacked his 2016 presidential endorsement of Ted Cruz. In 2022, Brooks ran and lost again; Trump, who initially supported him, flipped and endorsed now-Sen. Katie Britt. Now retired, Brooks said that his party could do better than Trump: “Keep Trump as nominee & gamble USA’s future, OR Replace Trump with a good character nominee & BEAT THE STEW OUT OF BIDEN!”

Brooks was on his own. Within two hours of the verdict, all but one Republican who’d run against Trump for the GOP nomination — Nikki Haley — had spoken out. Just one of them suggested that the verdict was fair.

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Respect the process. Two Republicans who’d never disparaged the case said that they respected the verdict. Hogan, who has said he won’t vote for Trump in November, urged “all Americans to respect the verdict and the legal process,” and called on his fellow politicians not to “pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship.” (LaCivita wasn’t the only Republican who disagreed.)

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had said during his presidential primary bid that the party should not nominate a convicted felon, had the same basic take as Hogan. “It is not easy to see a former President and the presumptive GOP nominee convicted of felony crimes; but the jury verdict should be respected,” he wrote. “An appeal is in order but let’s not diminish the significance of this verdict.”

It’s a travesty. Most Republican responses denounced the verdict as an abuse of power designed to swing the 2024 election against Trump. And most of the Republicans who said that predicted that the tactic wouldn’t work.

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“Democrats cheered as they convicted the leader of the opposing party on ridiculous charges,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement. “This was a purely political exercise, not a legal one.” In the hour after the verdict, dozens of House Republicans posted on X with similar views, including links to the Trump donation site. Candidates for governor posted pictures of themselves with Trump, promising to fight for him.

Ohio Sen. JD Vance, who like Johnson had traveled to Manhattan to support Trump in court, wrote that “Dems invented a felony to ‘get Trump,’ with the help of a Soros funded prosecutor and a Biden donor Judge, who rigged the entire case to get this outcome.” North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who is considered more independent from Trump, had the same dark view of the DA’s office: “From the beginning, it was clear that a radical, politically-motivated state prosecutor was using the full weight of his office to go after President Trump at the same time he turned a blind eye to violent criminals.”

How can I help? Texas Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton, who also traveled to Manhattan to support Trump, said mysteriously that he might use his office to help the former president. “I will unleash every tool at my disposal to fight this blatant corruption and political persecution spewing from New York and the Biden administration,” he wrote; Paxton’s willingness to sue swing states over their handling of the 2020 election, in the hope of halting Joe Biden’s victory, had deepened the bond between himself and the former president.

In the run-up to the verdict, multiple Republicans, including Vance and House Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, had called for criminal investigations into DA Alvin Bragg or ethics investigations into Judge Juan Merchan. (On Thursday, Vance told Fox News that Merchan should be subpoenaed, and asked: “Did George Soros ever talk to Alvin Bragg” about prosecuting Trump?) Abe Hamadeh, a Republican running for a safe House seat in Arizona, joined that chorus: Merchan needed to be “disbarred and prosecuted” for his role in the trial.

It’s the end of democracy. Other Republicans were even more apoplectic about what the jury had done. “Millions of Nazi and Imperial Japanese soldiers could not take down America but one Scumbag New York judge just did,” wrote Wisconsin Rep. Derrick Van Orden, a freshman who Democrats are targeting in November.

“Biden and the MARXIST CLOWNS in his NYC Circus just declared WAR ON DEMOCRACY and the American people!!” wrote Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson, a former White House physician who Trump helped elect to Congress, on X. “They just convicted their political opponent in order to win an election! This is no different than what happens in Communist China, North Korea, or the former Soviet Union.”

In states and districts that have yet to hold primaries, the Trump verdict reaction became a differentiator. Blake Masters, who’s facing Hamedeh in the race for a suburban Phoenix House seat, shared an X post from Tucker Carlson, warning that Trump would “win the election if he’s not killed first.” That had been a refrain for part of the pro-Trump right — that the ex-president’s opponents would simply not let him win again, and would stop him by means legal or otherwise.

“That’s a little tough, as a son, to read,” Donald Trump, Jr. said after reading the post on “Triggered,” his live show on the conservative video network Rumble. “That’s a little hard. But probably not wrong.”

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David’s view

Thirteen months ago, near the end of a candidate cattle call in South Carolina, Vivek Ramaswamy announced an emergency press conference. “What I’m about to say has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” he explained, “and everything to do with the election integrity of a self-governing democracy.” Trump had just predicted that Alvin Bragg would indict him; Ramaswamy condemned that, and wanted every other GOP contender to join him.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but this was the end of the Republican primary. You can ask Ron DeSantis: Weeks before losing the Iowa caucuses, he told the Christian Broadcasting Network that Trump’s indictments “sucked out all the oxygen” out of the race. He’d tested whether the news could pry votes away from Trump, first joking that “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star,” then promising to protect Trump — “I will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor.”

What explained that quick, strange turnaround? DeSantis found out that Republican voters considered the Bragg case, like all of the Trump cases, an election-rigging sham. Ramaswamy, who knew that immediately, never figured out a way around the issue either; he closed out his own campaign with the slogan “Save Trump, Vote Vivek,” a convoluted, podcast-ready argument that the MAGA movement needed him as a backup, in case the deep state took out Trump.

It wasn’t obvious that Trump would be convicted, but it was clear that conviction wouldn’t change these facts. Democrats used to panic about Hillary Clinton’s legal problems, worrying (correctly) that swing voters would be squeamish about electing a president under occasional threat of indictment. Republicans don’t think that way about Trump. Most voters have told pollsters that Trump committed a crime, when he directed a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels to prevent her story of a sexual encounter with him from being told before the 2016 election. Republicans, almost to a man, say otherwise. Their goal isn’t changing public opinion about Trump, but attacking the verdict from so many angles that those nervous voters think again.

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Notable

  • In Slate, Jeremy Stahl reports from the courtroom, where “gasps could be heard.”
  • Elsewhere in Semafor, Shelby Talcott and Kadia Goba look at the first Democratic response: “The administration, which has been careful to avoid the appearance of interference in legal affairs, is unlikely to get involved.”
  • In New York Magazine, Gabriel Debenedetti asks whether the Biden campaign can benefit off of what, in other elections, would be a gift to an incumbent: “Democrats have wrestled for years now with a broad public feeling that Trump always skates politically when it comes to his personal scandals.”
  • In National Review, Rich Lowry agrees with Trump that the trial was basically “rigged,” and that “Alvin Bragg failed in his duty as a prosecutor by flagrantly distorting the process to manufacture the 34 felonies he charged Trump with.”
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