Despite angry Trumpists, never stop making case against former president

It is the Republicans who are completely politicizing the rule of law by declaring that any accountability for their master is ipso facto illegitimate.

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Secret Service agents stand guard as former resident Donald Trump sits for a deposition at the office of the New York Attorney General on Aug 10.

Secret Service agents stand guard as former President Donald Trump sits for a deposition at the office of the New York Attorney General on Aug 10.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The longing to see right prevail and wrong punished is arguably one of the fiercest human desires. That’s why it is nothing less than agonizing to consider that in the case of Donald Trump, justice may have to be sacrificed on the altar of order.

That is the argument advanced by Damon Linker: “Large numbers of Republicans think Democrats are out to destroy Donald Trump ... This is a dangerous problem, because it shows both that the rule of law is already in an advanced state of decay and that pressing charges against Trump ... and potentially throwing him in jail will accelerate this process.”

Every fiber of my being rebels at this conclusion. Citing the fact that large numbers of Republicans think Democrats are out to get Trump — and therefore that any legal action will be interpreted as illegitimate — is exactly the argument that Sen. Ted Cruz and others made about the “stolen election.”

Explaining his vote not to certify the results, Cruz observed, “We right now have a substantial chunk of our country that has real doubts about the integrity of the election.” Well, yes, because that chunk of the country was lied to repeatedly by Trump and his Republican sycophants. It’s as if a food inspector repeatedly lied about unsafe food- handling at a local restaurant, then refused to issue a health certificate on the grounds that many people believed the place to be unsafe.

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Now the Republican Party is declaring that the Department of Justice’s search warrant for pilfered government documents, including highly classified documents, is a pure political attack on el jefe. Not just the wildest MAGA caucus in the House, but major figures in the GOP discarded centuries of tradition like so much pocket lint. Sen. Rick Scott compared the FBI to the Gestapo, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the search “an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.”

The world is upside down. It is the Republicans who are completely politicizing the rule of law by declaring that any accountability for their master is ipso facto illegitimate. Hardly a single Republican officeholder suggested waiting to see what the evidence was before reaching a conclusion. If they’d investigated for five seconds, they could have learned that the National Archives and Records Administration as well as the DOJ engaged in lengthy negotiations with Trump and his representatives to get the stolen documents back.

Let’s pause to consider what the Republican Party’s posture means. They are rallying around a man who attempted to stage a coup; a man who used lies, intimidation, bullying and eventually violence to try to retain office after his defeat. If nothing did it quite so thoroughly before, the past week has demonstrated beyond doubt that the GOP is a threat to democracy.

Even now, the former president is playing the part of Mafia don. Through an intermediary, he apparently contacted Attorney General Merrick Garland, saying, “The country is on fire. What can I do to reduce the heat?” Trump’s lackeys are portraying this as high-minded patriotism. “Trump ‘will do whatever’ he can to ‘help the country,’” read a Fox headline. Just the opposite.

Just as he did on Jan. 6, Trump is using the grassroots anger he stoked as a weapon. The country is not, in fact, on fire, though some Trump zealots have threatened the FBI with a dirty bomb, crashed a car into a Capitol barricade and opened fire on an FBI field office. That suits Trump. The power to incite violence is something a lost election has not removed from him. Further into his Fox interview, he lays out the threat clearly: “The country is in a very dangerous position. There is tremendous anger, like I’ve never seen before, over all of the scams, and this new one — years of scams and witch hunts, and now this.”

Linker argues that we have no choice but to refrain from making Trump a martyr with a prosecution. Like it or not, a significant constituency will have its faith in the rule of law further eroded by a Trump trial with consequences we cannot tolerate.

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I find Linker’s argument compelling — pursuing Trump criminally will only speed the descent.

But that doesn’t mean surrender. As Rep. Liz Cheney has demonstrated with her inspiring leadership, the truth can yet chip away at the wall of lies Trump has erected. Even among self-identified Republicans, some percentage disapprove of Trump: 15% of Republicans in the recent Politico/Morning Consult poll approved of the FBI’s actions at Mar-a-Lago, and a July New York Times/Siena College poll found that 20% of Republicans think Trump “went so far that he threatened American democracy.”

That is the crucial foothold for climbing out of the abyss into which Republicans threaten to plunge the nation. Buttress that foothold. Bolster it with truth. Never stop making the case. The GOP has an enraged mob at its core, but sane democrats and Democrats together have the numbers.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast.

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