Republican glee over "immunity" decision shows they don't fear Donald Trump — they desire a dictator

Trump has threatened to have people killed and GOP politicians aren't bothered in the slightest

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published July 3, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump | US Supreme Court building (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | US Supreme Court building (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Even though attempted murder is not one of his 34 felony convictions, Donald Trump has never been coy about his longing to kill people. During the 2016 campaign, Trump famously mused in a speech, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters." In 2020, he threatened to murder Black Lives Matter protesters by tweeting, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts." Throughout and after his presidency, there was a steady stream of stories from aides alarmed at how Trump would repeatedly ask if they would kill people for him. He requested bayonets and spikes on the southern border, hoping for grisly deaths of migrants crossing. He had Oval Office meetings in which he demanded the military "crack skulls" and "shoot" lefty protesters. Former Attorney General Bill Barr appeared to confirm reports that Trump regularly ordered him to "execute" government staff for speaking to the media. Barr did pretend Trump wasn't serious, despite how often he circled back to the topic of extra-legal executions. 

Even before he got into politics, Trump's bloodthirstiness was on public display. In the 1980s, Trump demanded the death penalty for five young men falsely convicted of rape, a position he did not back down from, even after they were formally exonerated. (Trump himself was found liable for sexual assault last year by a jury, but does not feel he should face his own recommended punishment.) In 1990, Trump praised the Chinese government for killing peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square. In the same interview, he lamented that the Soviet Union did not murder enough people, calling the Soviet government "out of control" for allowing more dissent than they had in the past. 

During his time as president, Trump did order the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, as a failed effort to distract from his own impeachment trial. But his desire to kill fellow Americans was blocked by the long-standing legal presumption that laws against murder apply to presidents. He also failed on January 6, 2021, but only due to the courage of the police and the Secret Service that held off the violent mob Trump sent after Congress and his own vice president. On Monday, however, the Supreme Court ended 235 years of restraint on a (Republican) president's power to kill illegally. But that's okay, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., reassures us. That's because Trump is such a great guy and he would never order the murder of innocent people!

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

"No one who is elected to that office going to be prone to this kind of crazy criminal activity," Johnson told Fox News, beaming with gaslighting joy. To rub our collective noses in how much he enjoys lying, Johnson also accused the people who are worried about this of "hyperbole" and "madness."

That Johnson is lying is beyond dispute. Of course an elected president can be engaged in "crazy criminal activity." That's how Trump spent most of his time in the White House. The reason Trump asked for "immunity" is he cannot prove his innocence in any of the four felony trials he's facing. He's already been convicted on 34 charges in the trial that finished in May. That Trump is a criminal is the most well-established fact about him. On top of his criminal charges, he was found liable for criminal activity in at least two other civil court cases: The sexual assault of E. Jean Carroll and his recent New York fraud trial. "Crazy criminal activity" is what Trump does. That and golf, which he cheats at

As irritating as Johnson's trolling is, however, it does settle one debate that's been roiling the chattering class for 8 years now: Do Republican politicians back Trump out of fear? Or are they just really stoked over this chance to follow a would-be dictator? Johnson's glee as he wallows in Trump's newly granted powers to commit crimes — even killing — tells the story. It's the latter. 

The prevailing wisdom, alas, has been that it's fear keeping Republicans lined up behind Trump, and not genuine enthusiasm. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, one of the few Republicans to speak out against Trump, uses this to excuse his Trump-loyalist friends. He recently told journalist McKay Coppins that fear of "personal safety" keeps Republicans silent. Even when not speaking of violence, Republicans often cite fear of losing their careers as a reason to avoid crossing Trump, the Washington Post reported in February. Anti-Trump Republicans in red states even told NBC News that it's "fear" of MAGA Republicans forcing them to keep their opinions to themselves. 

No doubt Trump uses intimidation to keep party members in line. But his real power comes less from scaring people and more from the widespread longing in the GOP ranks for a right-wing dictatorship. You can see it on Johnson's face in that clip. Even though he's one of the politicians the Washington Post characterized as "afraid," nothing about his smiling face suggests that. He's ecstatic that Trump just got a leg up in his quest to be America's Führer.

People who are afraid of Trump would not be happy that he's been granted the license to kill by the Supreme Court. But Johnson is hardly alone in expressing his elation over this. Politico described the Republican reaction as "giddy," with prominent politicians like Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., using language like "win" and "victory." Right-wing media is also celebrating like it's their birthday, while, like Johnson, lying to their audiences about how much freedom Trump would have to commit crimes in office. Kevin Roberts, the president of the Heritage Foundation — which is helping run the infamous Project 2025 — responded to the decision by echoing Trump's threats of violence.  He declared, "We are in the process of the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be."

I doubt that most, if any of the people who are lauding the decision do so out of any personal love for Donald Trump. They may be bad people, but they're still human and so likely experience the same level of personal revulsion to the man himself that people who don't care to flatter him report. Trump just so happens to be the available vehicle for authoritarian aspirations that have long been harbored in the GOP, and apparently at much higher levels than many in the media or within the moderate Republican ranks would like to admit. Certainly, the six Republican justices on the Supreme Court had no reason to hand this much power to Trump, unless they wanted to. It appears that, among the leadership ranks of the GOP, there's been a deep-rooted craving for a dictator. Trump happens to be the one that's on offer, so they'll take it. 

We need your help to stay independent

The fascistic yearnings of the GOP are one of the least well-kept secrets in politics, going back to Richard Nixon telling journalist David Frost in 1977 that a president should be able to commit crimes. In the decades since, Republican legal scholars have built up a body of pseudo-intellectual justifications for expanding executive powers to authoritarian levels. As Adam Serwer writes at the Atlantic, this is "the result of decades of work by right-wing activists seeking a permanent conservative political ascendancy." As the New York Times documented Monday, "starting with the Reagan administration in the 1980s," Republican lawyers "developed constitutional theories that would allow Reagan to do what he wanted even if Congress said otherwise."

Through the decades, driven by the Federalist Society, Republicans have consolidated more power into presidential hands. George W. Bush's administration was particularly attached to the idea that he had powers far behind what a good faith reading of the Constitution allowed. "The unitary executive theory provided the rationale for President Bush's agenda to defend and expand presidential powers in a variety of areas as well as to protect the executive branch from what he and Vice President Cheney perceived as an overly intrusive Congress," political scientists Mitchel Sollenberger and Mark Rozell explained in 2013. Trump's next-level criminal behavior has eclipsed the outrages of the Bush era. Still, it was stomach-churning, how they used  "unitary theory" of executive power to justify everything from torturing  prisoners of war to invading Iraq on false pretenses. 

Maybe Republicans should be more afraid of Trump, as former Vice President Mike Pence learned while fleeing for his life from a MAGA mob. The Supreme Court justices appear so blinded by ideology that they didn't consider that a liberated Trump could also order hits on judges who rule in ways he doesn't like. But oversized egos play a big role in Republican politics. One politician after another tells themselves they're smart and strong enough to manipulate Trump, rather than the other way around. That's why we see so many of them audition to be Trump's next running mate, even though the last one was nearly murdered by a Trump-incited mob. 

So no, the Republican yearning for a dictator has never been that hard to see, for those willing to look. What Trump offers is an opportunity. His reckless criminality meant he was willing to push boundaries even the Bush administration was too afraid to touch. His cult-like following among the Republican base gave him power to keep going, despite the pushback. His overt embrace of violence against his fellow Americans provided political cover, allowing Republicans to go along with him while claiming reluctance to reporters. If Republicans were as afraid of Trump as they claim in anonymous quotes, they would have taken one of the many past opportunities throw Trump overboard, such as voting to convict him in the Senate after his second impeachment. They chose not to. Now we know why: Because Trump wants to be a dictator. Republicans want that, too. 

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.

MORE FROM Amanda Marcotte

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Donald Trump Gop Immunity Republicans