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They Just Don’t Care
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They Just Don’t Care

Why won’t Republicans consider the possibility that Trump is guilty?

Former President Donald Trump and now-Sen. Josh Hawley in September 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Dear Reader,

So, Trump’s been indicted, again. There’s already been, and will be a lot more, punditry, reporting, analysis, screaming, yelling, cheering, chest-thumping, dumb-tweeting, gnashing of teeth, and rending of cloth about it. In fact, if you listen closely, you can hear the first Trump-indictment drum circle convening in Takoma Park, Maryland. 

And that’s all fine. 

I don’t mean everything being said is fine, there’s a whole lot of asininity out there. But for the first former president—and a leading presidential contender—to be federally prosecuted is something worth discussing, analyzing, and arguing about. We’re going to continue covering it extensively at The Dispatch

The issue for me right now is pretty simple: What the hell should I say about it?

I’m writing just as the documents are about to drop and I can’t dive into them now. But if I’m going to criticize all of these people for getting ahead of the facts last night and this morning, it seems inadvisable for me to get ahead of the facts.  

But it also seems kind of dishonest for me to pretend I don’t have an opinion. Just to be transparent with all of you, I think he’s probably guilty of some of the charges. While I can’t deny my animosity for the guy, I don’t think I’m letting it get the better of me. For instance, I thought the Alvin Bragg charges were flawed and mistaken. 

While I think we should all reserve a little judgment until the facts are known and he has his day in court, I’m under no obligation to hide my provisional opinion. I think he broke the law. Why do I think that? Well, for starters, there’s his character, or lack thereof. If you told me Mitt Romney or Mike Pence deliberately violated the law for stupid and selfish reasons, before I heard anything else, I’d start from a position of deep skepticism simply because that would be so out of character. 

Second, I think it’s very unlikely Jack Smith would bring this indictment if he didn’t think he had a pretty strong case. We hear a lot of pious protestations about “the president isn’t above the law” from Trump’s critics and we hear a lot of sanctimonious declarations about the “lawless” and “partisan” nature of Trump’s legal “persecution” from his defenders. There are legitimate arguments for both perspectives in the abstract. The truth is that the burden of proof for Trump—and any major public figure—is higher than for you or me. This is just how life works in the real world. A prosecutor going after a relative nobody has less at stake professionally, politically, reputationally, etc. than a prosecutor going after a former president and presidential candidate. That’s one reason Trump defenders have a good talking point—politically, if not so much legally—about Hillary Clinton’s treatment in 2016. (David French has a good column on the “Comey Standard” today). 

I expect the indictment will include a lot of hard evidence that the charges are warranted. If not, the judge should throw it all out and we can get back to arguing about Bud Light. 

Trump has offered several competing explanations for what he did and why he did it. That makes me suspect he’s guilty. If I’m accused of robbing a bank and I say, in no particular order, “I couldn’t have robbed it, I wasn’t there”; “I was there but I had nothing to do with the robbery”; “what happened wasn’t a robbery and lots of other people did what I did”; the “FBI is framing me”; and “as president I had total authority to take money out of that bank,” I don’t think I have to take any of your denials very seriously because they contradict each other. Trump has floated versions of all of these, from “they planted evidence,” to “of course I did it because I can.”

Now, before someone gets their undergarments in an Alpine butterfly knot about the analogy: I know that bank robbery is different. My only point is innocent people have this thing going for them that guilty people don’t: the truth. They don’t have to change their stories. They can just tell their story and stick with it. The facts almost always come to the rescue of people telling the truth. Facts are mean to liars. 

One complication is that Trump isn’t just one of the most unapologetic and relentless liars in American political history, he’s a fabulist, a kind of stygian Walter Mitty who imagines alternative realities on the fly and tries to incept them into public consciousness. Sometimes he lies for no strategic reason whatsoever, because it’s just easier or more self-serving or more fun to invent a reality in the moment. It’s at least theoretically possible he’s actually innocent of some or even all the charges, but because he is a horrible steward of his own political and legal interests, he’s put himself in a mess unnecessarily. 

That’s not all I have to say about Trump, but it’s enough for now. I hope it was sober, measured, and fair-minded enough for most readers. Now, for the airing of grievances.

What the f— is wrong with you?

Sen. Josh Hawley, America’s self-proclaimed champion of “manhood,” responded to the news last night: “If the people in power can jail their political opponents at will, we don’t have a republic.”

Hawley, a graduate of Yale Law School, where he was the head of the Federalist Society, presumably knows the difference between text and subtext. On the text, he’s right. If the people in power could jail their political opponents “at will” you wouldn’t be able to say we have a republic. The subtext, however, isn’t merely asinine, it’s dangerously asinine. 

Peruse the newspapers: You’ll find nothing about Donald Trump being put in jail. You know why? Well, because he hasn’t been and he’s not about to be (and I’m agnostic that he should be, even if proven guilty in a court of law). More importantly, the people in power can’t put Trump in jail “at will.” Trump has to have his day in court. The state has to bring evidence. It has to cite relevant law. A jury and judge have to be persuaded. That’s the rule of law. That’s what makes us a republic, as Hawley claims to understand the word. But that’s the opposite of what Hawley wants you to think is happening. He wants you to think due process and the application of law aren’t happening and that he is one of the last honest men—along with Donald Trump—in a banana republic. 

And he’s not alone.

Here’s Kevin McCarthy: 

Today is indeed a dark day for the United States of America. It is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him. Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades. I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice. House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.

What is he talking about? I believe in the rule of law and I don’t stand with Donald Trump, I stand with the law. To wit: Where is the violation in the rule of law? 

Here’s Marco Rubio:

There is no limit to what these people will do to protect their power & destroy those who threaten it, even if it means ripping our country apart & shredding public faith in the institutions that hold our republic together.

As I noted on Twitter, this would be a great tweet on January 6 (which, in fairness to Rubio, he did condemn). The comparison is worth exploring. The rioters on January 6—egged on by Trump who was eager to lawlessly protect his power and destroy anyone who threatened it—attacked police, broke down doors, and shattered windows to force Congress and Mike Pence to ignore the law and Constitution in order to hold onto power. Some chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.” And lest you think this was mere rhetorical excess, they brought a gallows. Others brought zip ties and tried to hunt down the speaker of the House. By my lights, they’re the ones who sound like they recognize “no limit to what these people will do to protect their power & destroy those who threaten it, even if it means ripping our country apart & shredding public faith in the institutions that hold our republic together.”

Meanwhile, what happened yesterday? A prosecutor notified Donald Trump that he needed to appear in court to address allegations he broke the law. The allegations are credible and I don’t for a moment believe that Rubio, McCarthy, or Hawley think otherwise. 

They just don’t care. 

Mark Levin, who looked like he was about to have a coronary on Fox last night, said, “You want to talk about an insurrection!? This is an insurrection!”

Here’s the definition of an insurrection: “an act or instance of rising in revolt, rebellion, or resistance against civil authority or an established government.”

I shouldn’t have to tell someone who fancies himself one of the foremost legal thinkers in America that Trump is neither a “civil authority” nor “an established government.” Then again, Mark’s confusion is understandable given that he thinks many of the January 6 rioters were akin to civil rights protesters who did nothing wrong and that the person deserving to be put in “leg irons” for January 6 is … Nancy Pelosi

Banana Republicans.

As I noted last year, the compulsion to defend anything and everything Trump does and then claim we live in a lawless banana republic whenever the system tries to hold him accountable is a celebration of lawlessness and banana republic politics. 

Let’s take the Hillary Clinton talking point at face value. She wasn’t charged with a crime and that shows that there’s a double standard for Democrats and Republicans. Let’s stipulate—not that difficult a stipulation—that she should have been. Okay, so does that mean no Republican should ever be charged with a crime, too? Do you think that if one bank robber avoids prosecution for political reasons, all bank robbers—or your favorite bank robbers—should be exempt from prosecution? In other words, the people shouting “banana republic!” aren’t against banana republics, they just want a banana republic on their terms. 

And they want this for what? Donald Trump? What the f— is wrong with you people? 

Look, I understand the political calculation. DeSantis, Haley, Scott, Pence, et al., aren’t bending themselves into pretzels out of any personal loyalty or fondness for Trump. They’re scared of his voters and his praetorian defenders on TV. Before seeing any of the indictments, Nikki Haley said, “This is not how justice should be pursued in our country. The American people are exhausted by the prosecutorial overreach, double standards, and vendetta politics. It’s time to move beyond the endless drama and distractions.”

Fine, but how should justice be pursued in our country?

The upshot of her position, and DeSantis’ and Scott’s, is that a popular figure in their party cannot be charged with a crime. Why? Because he’s popular. Or, as McCarthy intimates, because they’re running for president against Biden. That is some banana republic fertilizer right there. 

All of these people—who want to be president of the United States of America—are delegitimizing the government they want to run for the benefit of someone none of them think should be president. They are saying that the rule of law either doesn’t exist in the country they profess to love or that it should be suspended for the benefit of their frickin’ primary opponent.

And what is their evidence that this is all so illegitimate? The mere fact that Trump is being charged with a crime—any crime. They don’t defend his actual actions. (I mean, JD Vance does, but that’s a whole different crock.) They start from the rhetorical and political premise that all of the blame lies with Trump’s accusers as if he never brings anything to the table. 

I mean if Tim Scott became the frontrunner tomorrow, does Kevin McCarthy actually believe that Biden’s DOJ would charge Scott with crimes? I think that’s moronic. But, okay, I’ll play. What crimes? 

At minimum, even if you think that the DOJ is hopelessly corrupt, you could acknowledge the fact that Trump makes it easy for the “Deep State” to target him because he does an amazing number of indefensibly stupid or craven things. Trump is in legal hot water for things he actually did. Even if they don’t violate the law—we’ll see—any reasonable person can see that he invited legal scrutiny with his actions (Obviously, Kevin McCarthy knows this is true. But he probably can’t say so because if he crosses Trump his speakership will crumble). 

Why can’t his opponents—other than Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson—actually make that point? Again, I think many of the assumptions and insinuations from Trump’s defenders are nonsense, but why can’t Haley, Scott, Pence, or DeSantis say something like, “I think prosecution of a former president is a bridge too far. I think the Department of Justice is too politicized. But we must acknowledge that we cannot afford a president who makes it so easy for our opponents. He’s not a criminal, but he’s criminally careless. And we need a president who makes things harder for our enemies, not easier.”

I don’t love that argument, but I’m not running for president. Rather than seize this opportunity to make the case that the porn-star-shtupping, Putin-loving, careless-with-classified-materials oaf is damaged goods, they’d rather rally to his defense. Rhetorically and politically, they’re providing cover for Laura Loomer’s position:

I’m voting for the guy who has the most arrests and indictments. Because that means he has actually fought for something. I’m voting for the guy most hated by the media and GOP elites. Because that means he’s pissing all the right people off.

By this staggeringly stupid standard, George Santos should be speaker, Jeffrey Epstein should’ve run Child Services, and Hannibal Lecter would make a great FBI director. 

It all reminds me of the parable of the drowning man

Imagine there was a political afterlife for Republican politicians. They get to the Pearly Gates and say to God, “Why did you let Donald Trump kill my political career?” God might reply: “Oh my Me! What are you talking about? I sent you the Access Hollywood tape, a porn star, two impeachments and a bunch of indictments, and you refused to take the lifeline.” 

Various & Sundry

Canine update: I had to play dirty with Pippa again this week. The other day, she simply wouldn’t get out of bed until I gave her an adequate number of belly rubs. This isn’t just a problem because it delays our perambulations and my ability to get caffeinated. Her Rosa Barks civil disobedience infuriates Zoë, who starts arooing at me, and that wakes up the Fair Jessica and the kidlet. So, only for the second time, I went downstairs and rang the doorbell. Doorbell rings are a magical thing to Pippa. It’s sort of like rescinding an invitation to a vampire, causing them to be levitated out of your domicile. The spaniel must run down stairs and bark at… something. She knew what I was doing, but she didn’t care. She had to come down. And she was pissed about it. Other than that there’s not much to discuss. Zoë remains vigilant on patrols and elsewhere, even if on Monday she basically just did the bare minimum. Pippa continues to keep my house from collapsing due to an insufficiently sturdy wall (unless belly rubs are on offer). And Gracie is the Queen


And now, the weird stuff

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.