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Trump is going to drag the entire Republican party down with him

If the president is to be sucked in by the morass of criminal charges facing him, he’s determined to pull the rest of the GOP in with him

Noah Berlatsky
Monday 20 March 2023 20:23 GMT
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DeSantis and Trump are expected to face off for the 2024 Republican nomination
DeSantis and Trump are expected to face off for the 2024 Republican nomination (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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Louise Thomas

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“If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.......and we will deserve it,” South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham famously tweeted in 2016.

Donald Trump won in 2016, and Graham has become one of his most ardent supporters. But his tweet has nonetheless been prescient. The GOP lost elections in 2018, 2020, and 2022. Now former President and current 2024 candidate Trump faces multiple indictments for a range of illegal activities. And he’s made it clear that he intends to force the GOP to tie itself to his rapidly sinking garbage scow.

Trump announced last week that he believes he will be indicted and arrested this Tuesday by a New York prosecutor (it’s not clear where Trump got this information, or if it’s true.) The charges are related to Trump’s 2016 hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress. Trump paid her to stay quiet about their relationship during the 2016 election; he may have violated campaign finance laws.

Many Republican leaders, including Trump rivals for the 2024 nomination, are probably not averse to indictments which hobble Trump’s re-election efforts. Trump-backed candidates, like would-be Senator Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, fared very poorly in 2022. Trump’s influence probably cost the GOP the Senate.

While GOP leaders might be eager to move on to someone, or anyone else, though, GOP voters continue to express enthusiasm for Trump. He leads 2024 polls, consistently beating Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, his nearest rival. Biden beat Trump in 2020 and 2022. But the base seems determined to keep trying with a strategy, and a candidate, that has failed.

The easiest way out of this dilemma is for Trump’s health to fail—or for him to be forced out of the race by legal troubles. There’s reason to believe that many in the GOP are hoping that God or prosecutors will end their coordination problem and allow them to escape Trump without having to irritate the based by opposing him.

Unfortunately for them, Trump seems quite hale and is well aware that many in the GOP would like him to sink beneath the morass of criminal charges. He’s determined to pull them in with him.

Over the weekend, Trump surrogates began publicly pushing DeSantis to speak against the Manhattan DA. Trump’s war room account on twitter posted that it had been 24 hours since the news of the coming indictment and “some people are still quiet. History will judge their silence.” Other Trump allies quickly joined in, suggesting that DeSantis’ failure to rush to Trump’s defense was a kind of treason to the cause.

The goal here is clear: Trump wants to force the Republican party to embrace his crimes. Rather than letting the indictments marginalize him, he’s going to make elected officials implicate themselves in his defense. The 2024 primary campaign will become a litmus test for Republicans. If you’re not willing to defend Trump corruption, you’re not a real Republican. That’s a formulation that will ensure Trump the nomination—and damage the GOP in the general, as the trial (or trials) reveal more and more sordid details.

DeSantis tried to thread the needle. He criticized the Manhattan DA for charging Trump, but also sneered at Trump having to pay “hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.”

Trump, predictably, was unimpressed, and fired back with a (since deleted) post on Truth Social in which he said, “Ron will probably find out about this sometime in the future when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman (or possibly a man!) with false accusations.” This is a brazen smear, suggesting with no evidence that DeSantis has had affairs, and implying that he is gay, which is meant to be an insult in the increasingly homophobic Republican party.

It’s not just DeSantis who’s struggling to navigate Trump’s possible indictment. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and far right representative Marjorie Taylor Greene have both attacked the DA. But they’ve also pushed back against Trump’s calls for “protests”—calls which echo his encouragement of the coup attempt on January 6.

The insurrection was a political blow to Republicans; pluralities of voters condemn it as a violent attack on democracy. The GOP does not want to have a repeat of lawless violence around Trump’s indictment. But they also don’t want the base to think they’re abandoning Trump. So they end up in an untenable situation, declaring that nefarious Democrats are weaponizing the judicial system against their own heroic party leader, even as they nervously urge their voters to do nothing about this supposed injustice.

Again, if Trump would just disappear, the GOP could navigate these issues easily. They could just stop talking about Trump as court dates and perhaps eventually jail prevented him from appearing in public or campaigning.

Trump has no intention of leaving the public stage quietly, though. The GOP has the same two choices it’s always had. Republicans can continue to kiss Trump’s ring. Or they can stop. Logically, it’s long past time for them to choose the second option. But based on past performance, the GOP will continue to crawl on its belly into whatever muck Trump lays out for them.

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