GOP voters can't cope with Trump charges — so Republicans double down on anti-democratic attacks

Republicans aren't handling Trump's indictments well

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published August 30, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones, state Rep. Gloria Johnson, and state Rep. Justin Pearson speak with members of the press after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Oval Office April 24, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones, state Rep. Gloria Johnson, and state Rep. Justin Pearson speak with members of the press after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Oval Office April 24, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

As anyone who read the indictments from special prosecutor Jack Smith or Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis could attest, the evidence against Donald Trump is overwhelming in both the federal and Georgia cases involving the attempted theft of the 2020 election. But even if you haven't read a word of either, one could surmise the seriousness of the situation from the way Republican leaders are reacting. Trump's defenders are lashing out with the favorite rhetorical device of authoritarians everywhere: Psychological projection.

Take, for instance, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., blabbering on about impeachment inquiries into the baseless conspiracy theories about President Joe Biden. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is making impotent threats of retaliatory investigations. Meanwhile, Republicans, like Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, are seeking to shield Trump from his legal woes by hijacking must-pass government funding legislation to hinder prosecutors who have successfully secured indictments of Trump. The already shrill tones emanating from Republicans on all levels are reaching glass-shattering decibels. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, they're looking for innocent victims to take their frustration out on — and in some states, the victim is the concept of democracy itself. 

In Wisconsin, voters have reacted to the twin Republican assaults on democracy and reproductive rights by electing Justice Janet Protasiewicz to the state supreme court this year. While it was not explicitly a partisan election, Protasiewicz won because she was both loudly pro-choice and critical of her opponent, Dan Kelly, for blatantly supporting Trump's 2020 coup efforts. Wisconsin Republicans have worked hard for a long time to gut democracy in their state to the point where Democrats would have to win by 12 percentage points to get a bare minimum in the state house. The hope is that the new liberal court majority, empowered by voters, can scale back the gerrymandering. 

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"This is nothing short of an unprecedented coup," the court's conservative chief justice, Annette Ziegler, wrote in an unhinged email to the new, voter-chosen liberal majority. She also characterized the changes to the court as a "recent hostile takeover" and accused the new majority of conducting an "illegal experiment" by voting to weaken her bureaucratic powers. 

Ziegler has been using this "coup" language all over the place to demonize the liberal majority. As with most things from Republicans today, the accusation is a confession, on two levels. First, the actual coup effort of recent history, as Ziegler no doubt knows, was conducted by Trump. Second, Ziegler herself had been refusing to re-open the court to allow the new liberal majority to take cases. She's just mad because they rewrote the rules so they can actually do the job voters hired them to do.

In Tennessee, Republicans are also having a tantrum over the fact that voters just keep insisting on their right to choose their own leaders. In April, Republicans in the state legislature expelled two members on false claims of incivility, but in reality, Republicans reject the right of voters in urban districts to elect Black Democrats as representatives. The two were shortly restored to office by voters and clearly Republicans aren't happy about it. The majority voted again on Monday to silence Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville. Again, the pretense was that he was "out of order" during a debate over a gun safety bill. 

Democrats walked out in protest and Jones released a video explaining, "What is happening is not democratic. It is authoritarianism."

As with the initial expulsion, what's truly bizarre about this is Democrats have no real power in Tennessee anyway, as it's a red state with its own dose of gerrymandering. But that's how entitled Republicans feel in the Trump era. It's not enough to control all levers of government. The very fact that Democrats still get to vote and speak out at all is viewed as unacceptable.

Certainly, Trump built on years of Republican voter suppression and other anti-democratic efforts, but this petulant GOP loathing of anything that even smacks of democracy owes quite a bit to his shameless assertion that any election Trump does not win is "fraud." Now that he's been indicted in two separate jurisdictions for his efforts to overturn democracy, Republican leaders are, in a pique of defensiveness, doubling down. Because heaven forbid they admit that having a democracy means letting voters pick who they want as leaders. 

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It's a sign of how normalized the fascist effect has become in the GOP that barely anyone batted an eye to the violent rhetoric that poured out of Republican leaders and pundits in response to Trump's indictments. Former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was squawking about how conservatives need to "rise up" and threatened a "civil war." Failed Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was raving about how there needs to be "a street fight, a fist fight" on Steve Bannon's podcast. And, of course, there was the projection, such as with right-wing talk radio host Stew Peters ranting about how Democrats are "the real insurrectionists who have committed sedition," justifying the use of "extra-legal" options to remove them from power. 

What is perhaps more surprising and equally dangerous is the number of GOP figures who are propping up fake governments in an effort to undermine the authority of real elected officials. As Right Wing Watch reported, earlier this month, a group of right-wing activists led by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum "held a simulated Article V convention in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia" in hopes of kickstarting an effort to void out the actual Constitution. Larry Klayman, of the misnamed Freedom Watch, claims to have convened an extralegal "citizen grand jury" and "citizen judge" in Idaho to file charges against President Biden for made-up crimes. 

It's easy to laugh at this stuff, but it helps build up GOP morale to abuse real power to prosecute Democrats on false evidence and false accusations. On Fox News, for instance, Jesse Watters hosted a GOP political operative named Ned Ryun, who was screaming for the mass arrest of Democrats as retaliation. He didn't even really bother to pretend they had committed crimes to justify it. Certainly, the House Republican chatter about impeaching Biden and investigating the prosecutors falls into this category. The fake grand juries and constitutional conventions only serve to make these abuses of power, used just to prop up lies, seem more legitimate. 

All of this comes from the same place: The Republican belief that they should hold all the power, regardless of what voters believe. So much so that they back Trump's criminal efforts to stay in power, despite losing an election. It's all the more reason to hope that the March 4 date for Trump's federal trial for an attempted coup stays put. Republicans clearly need even more persuasion that the fascistic path they are on will lead to no good. They won't wake up overnight if their leader gets convicted for his crimes, but the more the cognitive dissonance increases, the harder it will be for them to hang on. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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