On August 8, 1974, an American constitutional crisis thankfully came to an end–President Richard Nixon announced from the Oval Office that he was resigning the presidency at noon the next day.
It’s little surprise that the former president responded to yesterday’s unprecedented FBI search of his home by accusing the Department of Justice of “lawlessness,” engaging in a “political persecution,” and weaponizing the justice system against him.
Victimization and projection are always the name of the game with Trump.
But it’s similar comments from prominent Republicans that are so particularly disturbing. Without evidence, members of Congress and conservative commentators, en masse, are accusing the Department of Justice of an abuse of power and targeting the president in an illegal political witchhunt.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy echoed Trump’s grievances by claiming the DOJ had “reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.” He also warned Attorney General Merrick Garland to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar” if Republicans take back the House in November.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis characterized the “raid” as “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.” This is the language of far-right conspiracy theorists, only it’s being spouted by a potential frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida compared the actions by federal law enforcement officials to “something we have seen many times from 3rd world Marxist dictatorships.” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called the search “unprecedented” and said, “The Biden Admin has fully weaponized DOJ & FBI to target their political enemies.”
The House GOP Judiciary’s Twitter feed warned, “If they can do it to a former President, imagine what they can do to you.”
There is, of course, no basis for these accusations.
“…the response of Republicans to what they call the Biden administration’s politicization of the rule of law…is calls for a GOP-led politicization of the rule of law.”
To get a search warrant, the Justice Department needed to convince a judge that it had reason to believe a crime had been committed and that a search of Mar-a-Lago would turn up evidence proving that assertion. Considering the target, in this case, is a former president, one has to imagine that the evidentiary bar was exceedingly high.
But as has been obvious for some time, when it comes to Trump, the GOP doesn’t care about “law and order” or the rule of law. Several prominent conservatives, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, even tweeted, “DEFUND THE FBI,” an ironic accusation from a party that has spent the past two years accusing Democrats of wanting to “defund the police.”
The same party that saw their 2016 party convention marred by chants of “lock her up” directed at Hillary Clinton is now concerned about the alleged persecution of political enemies.
Indeed, it was only days ago that the aforementioned Rubio accused Democrats of being soft on crime by, in his words, “protecting some crazy prosecutor…that refuses to prosecute entire categories of crime.” Law and order for thee, not for me.
But there is a deeper and more ominous side to the GOP’s over-the-top rhetoric. In accusing President Joe Biden and Attorney General Garland of using the Department of Justice to go after their political enemies, elected Republicans are further eroding faith in the rule of law and federal law enforcement agencies. They are telling their supporters that simply investigating potential wrongdoing by the former president is an illegal act. In effect, they are arguing that Trump is above the law.
They are laying the groundwork for potential violence. Last night social media was filled with messages from Trump’s MAGA supporters warning of “civil war” and calls to take up arms against Democrats.
Prominent conservative commentator Glenn Beck tweeted, “The FBI needs to be fumigated. ANY FBI agent who knows about corruption and keeps quiet is just as guilty,” and the popular right-wing talk radio host Todd Starnes said the real concern is what the FBI “may have planted inside” Mar-a-Lago. (It bears noting that the head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, was appointed by President Trump). Fox News’ Sean Hannity said the “DOJ is now being used as a weapon against Biden’s top political rival” and others on Fox News called the search a “coup” and emblematic of “thug, police state tactics.”
There are dozens of other examples of these reckless allegations—which are now mainstream Republican Party talking points—being pushed out to conservative audiences already primed to believe the most lurid conspiracy theories about the Biden White House. And with calls to dismantle the FBI and investigate the attorney general, the response of Republicans to what they call the Biden administration’s politicization of the rule of law…is calls for a GOP-led politicization of the rule of law.
In a nation already deeply polarized and seemingly on the brink of political conflagration, Republicans are throwing more fuel on the fire.
Don’t underestimate how dangerous this situation could become. With mounting evidence of Trump’s law-breaking behavior, and as federal prosecutors seem closer to an indictment of the former president, the potential for bloodshed is increasing. If this is the reaction when Trump’s home is merely searched, imagine what the response will be if the former president is indicted and arrested.
We know that Trump has no compunctions about fomenting violence. We saw that on Jan. 6. But now, it seems Republican politicians are intent on going down the same dangerous path.