When Donald Trump was federally indicted earlier this month for violating the Espionage Act and obstructing justice, the Republican Party faced a choice: Cut Trump loose, or destroy the foundations of the legal system seeking to hold him to account. And once again, in a show of Pavlovian subservience, the party chose Trump, reaffirming his de facto leadership.
Now, nearly every Republican in the country—from Trump’s presidential rivals to GOP officials and Capitol Hill lawmakers—is prosecuting a house-of-mirrors case in the court of public opinion that there’s a ‘two-tiered’ legal scheme at work and Trump is the hapless victim of justice run amok. To that end, Republicans have pounced on the plea deal of President Joe Biden's surviving son, Hunter, as evidence of their meritless allegation.
"If you're Biden's leading political opponent, the DOJ will try to put you in prison," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted Tuesday. "If you're Biden's son, the DOJ will give you a sweetheart deal."
Trump’s 2024 rivals can’t escape this narrative and remain relevant within the Republican Party. When Fox News' Sean Hannity expressed his concern Tuesday that "equal justice" in America is crumbling, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina—arguably the sunniest 2024 Republican hopeful—was right there with him.
"It's dangerous," Scott responded during a televised town hall in South Carolina. "We all know this, the ‘Big Guy’ has some explaining to do," Scott added. No, he wasn’t talking about Trump. Scott was referencing congressional Republicans' latest obsession: an unverified FBI document alleging a bribery scheme in which then-Vice President Biden was supposedly referred to as "the Big Guy." But the senator didn’t stop at tarnishing Biden, he called to question the entirety of the justice system.
“We cannot fulfill our destiny in America if we do not have the lady of justice wearing a blindfold," Scott continued. "We all have to be treated equally.”
Never mind the fact that Hunter, who chiefly failed to pay his taxes in 2017 and 2018, listened to the advice of his lawyers and cut a deal with the feds to resolve the matter. If Trump had simply returned the classified documents he absconded with to the federal government, he could have entirely avoided a federal probe and the resulting charges.
Scott's red-meat offering is telling. His main calling card in the GOP primary is an uplifting personal biography and evangelical bona fides; yet he's still plenty happy to do Trump’s dirty work on the way to higher office, even if tearing down Lady Justice is the price of admission.
Without a doubt, Republican efforts to sway public opinion on Trump’s national betrayal are maddeningly rife with hypocrisy, but getting mired in the sludge of GOP whatabout-isms misses the bigger picture. Republicans are currently fully invested in the project of destroying the single most important foundation of any democracy: law and order.
The core of a democracy isn't voting, it's a fair and equitable justice system. Plenty of authoritarians allow their citizens to go to the polls and cast meaningless ballots in predetermined contests; Russian President Vladimir Putin is chief among them.
But in order to govern a peaceful and prosperous society, the people must have some level of faith in the justice system. And although America's legal system has undoubtedly favored whiter, richer male citizens from the start, it has never been weaponized by a single autocratic ruler. Republicans are attempting just that by, ironically, accusing Democrats of doing so in a stunning display of projection.
Trump's 2024 rivals immediately seized on the 37-count criminal indictment of him as a "weaponization" of the Justice Department rather than a deeply troubling national security breach. House Republicans lambasted President Joe Biden's "political persecution” of his top political opponent while plotting ways to undermine special counsel Jack Smith. The Mitch McConnell wing of the Senate GOP caucus is hiding out under a rock until Election Day, hoping to defy the curse of Trump and regain control of the upper chamber. Choose your own adventure—active or passive—but it’s complicity just the same.
Numerous polls have shown how entirely out of step the Republican Party is with a substantial majority of voters regarding Trump’s indictment. But that's of no concern to Republicans—they have abandoned any effort to appeal to a majority of the country. Instead, they are busily sowing distrust in a system to which they no longer subscribe in hopes of overthrowing the republic as we know it.
"We have to view the Republicans now, or MAGA at least, as a secessionist movement," explained political strategist and Hopium substacker Simon Rosenberg in a recent dispatch. "Not geographically seceding from the US, but seceding from the idea of America as a democracy."
Indeed, that is the only framework that explains a party no longer trying to win majorities, appeal to majorities, or represent majorities, but rather dismantle the system, block by block, from the bottom up.