One of the reliably perplexing things about attempts to bring former President Trump to justice is the enduring loyalty of his MAGA Republican base.
In the days following his third and most consequential criminal indictment, which alleges he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 free and fair election, a stream of stories underlined that his supporters’ confidence in him simply cannot be shaken.
Trump’s defenders, including dozens of elected officials who have sworn to uphold the Constitution, put forth various theories about his current legal predicament, all of which absolve him of anything approaching criminal behavior.
The stance can be summed up in the reflexive bleat from Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan: “President Trump did nothing wrong!”
Yes, Trump is innocent until proven guilty, but given the range and gravity of the charges he faces, and the pileup of evidence presented in the indictments, the excuses made for him are mind-boggling:
He is the victim of the Deep State, or of President Biden’s Justice Department. The left-wing media is out to get him. As a former president, he has the right to hoard any state secrets he wants. (And he declassified them all anyway!) Anything he has said about the 2020 election is protected by the 1st Amendment. The election really was stolen. And who cares if he tried to protect his image by buying off the porn star he slept with while his wife was home with a newborn? Trump gave us a Supreme Court that overturned Roe vs. Wade!
Trump leads his GOP opponents by around 35 points in most polls.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his nearest rival, is the only other candidate polling in double digits. Everyone else is a single-digit blip.
Which brings me to the second reliably perplexing thing about the Trump situation. Let’s call it the Republican Political Paradox.
For months, most of the candidates seeking to take Trump out in the Republican presidential primary have only gently criticized him, if at all. Some pretend he doesn’t exist. Others defend him as if they are auditioning to be on the ticket. But you cannot take down a front-runner without attacking him.
And if an apparent presidential crime spree isn’t a worthy focus of attack, what is? What’s left for Trump’s rivals to use to differentiate themselves from him? The GOP, after all, long ago tossed out its platform, which these days amounts to “elect Trump” and “own the libs.” By defending him, minimizing his alleged crimes or staying silent, Trump’s rivals are handing the nomination to him on a silver platter.
I keep hearing pundits bemoan the fact that no one “can figure out” how to run against Trump. That’s ridiculous. It’s not that they can’t figure it out; it’s that they refuse to do it. They are afraid of alienating his base, which has shown no sign of fatigue.
By trying to avoid committing political suicide, Trump’s GOP rivals are, in fact, committing political suicide.
Take DeSantis, who was supposed to be Trumpier than Trump. Instead, he has absolutely blown his chances to distinguish himself from the pack by defending Trump at almost every turn. After Trump was indicted for keeping classified documents, DeSantis warned of “the weaponization of federal law enforcement.” After Trump was indicted for trying to overturn the 2020 election, DeSantis proclaimed: “One of the reasons our country is in decline is the politicization of the rule of law. No more excuses — I will end the weaponization of the federal government.”
It’s possible that DeSantis’ sour disposition and charisma deficit will doom him anyway. But by shielding or ignoring Trump, what alternative, exactly, is he offering Republican voters? He’s already proved that, like Trump, he’s a drama queen, picking pointless fights with Disney and alienating Black voters to pump up his culture war cred.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, after bending the knee to Trump for months, finally got up the nerve to call his legal troubles a “distraction.” “We can’t keep dealing with this drama,” she said, but added nary a discouraging word about the man who has caused it.
And former Vice President Mike Pence has finally awakened from his coma to pronounce that “anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States.” Sorry, Veep. Too little, too late. (And the base still wants you dead.)
Sen. Tim Scott, of South Carolina, may be a favorite of donors, but his sunny disposition puts him at odds with the angry mood of his party.
Only former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd have had the courage to separate themselves from the pack and tell the truth about the sociopath desperately seeking a return to the White House.
Hurd was heartily booed last month after declaring to a gathering of Iowa Republicans that Trump is only running for president “to stay out of prison.”
Here’s how far truth-telling has gotten Hurd and the others with voters: Christie is polling at 2.5%; Hutchinson and Hurd at less than 1% each.
“I know, I know,” Hurd said before he left the stage in Iowa. “The truth is hard…. But if we elect Donald Trump, we are willingly giving Joe Biden four more years in the White House.”
That, friends, is the silver lining of the Republican Political Paradox.