Trump's defenders get caught up in the corruption

The GOP establishment has taken back the wheel and they are now driving the MAGA bus

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 14, 2023 9:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Happy Birthday Donald Trump. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. A mere lad of seventy-seven, you have a very exciting year ahead of you, running for president for the third time while facing multiple felony charges in both New York and Miami (and very likely Washington DC and Atlanta too!) And you will be the center of attention once again, just the way you like it.

Yesterday, Donald Trump was arraigned on 37 federal felony charges for his decision to abscond with extremely sensitive classified documents, store them haphazardly in his wide-open beach club and then refuse to give them back to the government when asked politely to do so. Unless the special counsel's office has found some evidence that will explain this bizarre behavior, we will probably be left arguing about Trump's motives forever. Was it a psychological need to hoard them or simply a product of his extreme mental disorganization? Did he see a monetary value in them or perhaps he had it in mind to use them as leverage for his political future, as he did when he extorted the Ukrainian president to help him sabotage Joe Biden's campaign? We may never know why he did it, but the government doesn't need to prove that. It's enough that he committed a very serious national security breach and then refused to cooperate when they offered for over a year to let it slide.

There was some nervousness as to whether his calls to the MAGA faithful to protest would result in big crowds descending on the Miami courthouse and causing a confrontation along the lines of January 6. A motley crowd of fringe weirdos marched around dressed in costume and carrying huge Trump flags but it was very tame. The Proud Boys didn't even turn up and they're headquartered in Miami.

The GOP establishment has taken back the wheel and they are now driving the MAGA bus.

As my colleague Amanda Marcotte pointed out, this is likely because there really isn't any logical demand as there was with the "Stop the Steal" rally. What are they going to do, chant "Hang Jack Smith?" Moreover, Trump followers don't really protest, they gather in large numbers to party and see their Dear Leader speak, and he clearly had no intention of holding a press conference on the courthouse steps as another defendant might do. He rolled in with a large convoy and then sneaked out the back in his SUV, a vague apparition behind the darkened windows, just two blurry disembodied hands making the thumbs up sign.

And anyway, as Marcotte points out, while nobody seems to be eager to violently storm another government building at the moment, MAGA is operating on a number of different fronts these days. Republicans in Congress have jumped into the protest breach with threats of hearings and work stoppages and blocking of nominations as a way of showing their support for Trump. Activists are writing hysterical social media posts and the right-wing media is fulfilling its duty to the movement as well:

As you can see, Joe Biden is the "dictator" while Donald Trump on the right appeared before an adoring crowd at his Bedminster golf club to confess to more crimes and whine incessantly about the unfairness of it all. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman was at the event and she reported:

[B]y 2021, as investigations began into his efforts to thwart the transfer of power, he had come to see another campaign as a shield against prosecutions. But that grandeur — and legal insulation — had vanished on Tuesday. Instead, Mr. Trump's team tried to create the sense of a man still in power. In Bedminster, he spoke with the white columns of the main house of his New Jersey golf club behind him. The indictment became another backdrop for the ongoing Trump Show.

So far the GOP presidential candidates are unable to quit Trump's Grand Pageant either despite the fact that their rival has now been indicted on very serious charges of endangering national security. Even those voters who really want a different candidate than Trump have to see that for the pathetic weakness it is. Talk about throwing one right over the plate.

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With the exception of former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie not one of them has offered a full-throated condemnation of Trump's behavior. Most of them can't even bring themselves to say "everyone is innocent until proven guilty and I will await the verdict of the jury." They're all rushing to defend him with shallow "whataboutism" and attacks on the "deep state" and alleged unequal justice that somehow is supposed to give Trump a get-out-of-jail free card.

Trump is actually in a weakened state but these GOP leaders have absorbed the self-serving Trump crusade against the "deep state."

CBS News poll taken after the indictment was released on Friday found that 76% of likely Republican primary voters believe the charges are political. Only 12% believe the classified documents hoarded by Trump were a national security risk. And 80% said that a conviction would not preclude him from being president! A Morning Consult poll released on Tuesday found that Trump got a bump, from 55% to 59% in the wake of the indictment. 538s polling average showed a similar uptick.

We all knew that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any voters but it's still a little jarring to realize that the Republican Party is so thoroughly Trumpified that they don't even care if he is found to have stashed nuclear secrets next to the toilet.

It is a truism that elected Republican officials are terrified of that Trump base and that's why they cannot bring themselves to defy him, no matter what he does whether it's bragging about assaulting women, coddling dictators or inciting insurrections. Now he's charged with serious violations of national security laws and they are once again falling in line behind him. But maybe that conventional wisdom is backwards now. Trump is actually in a weakened state but these GOP leaders have absorbed the self-serving Trump crusade against the "deep state." They have convinced themselves it is true and/or beneficial for them to claim that Democrats have done the same and got away with it.

Here is supposedly serious national security expert Senator Tom Cotton, for example:

Some, like Senate Intelligence Committee member and former Trump critic Marco Rubio wring their hands over how terribly divisive it is and warn that Democrats have opened Pandora's box by, I guess, failing to fire the whole Justice Department for bringing charges against Trump:

This is yet another sign of the ideological bankruptcy of the Republican Party as it goes into the 8th year of Trump's dominance. It's not that Trump's crazy base is ungovernable and they have no choice but to go along if they want to keep their seats. The establishment has taken back the wheel and they are now driving the MAGA bus. They don't have to do this. They want to. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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