6 Jun.

Al Hunt: Republicans’ dangerous reaction to Trump Conviction

Originally posted on the Politics War Room Substack

by Al Hunt

The Republican reaction to Donald Trump’s criminal conviction is a predictor of perilous times ahead in our politics.

There was very little violence following the trial, but the incendiary and duplicitous broadsides defending Trump by top Republicans is only a prelude to what likely would occur if this November’s election looks anything like 2020. They attacked the jury and the judge, charged the Department of Justice was politically corrupt, and vowed retribution.

Trump and his allies are emboldening the violent white power movement which has rebounded from the criminal convictions for the January 6 assault on the Capitol. In an in-depth Reuters article, one member of the Proud Boys said after the Trump conviction, this is “war,”; another warned that if Trump is denied the presidency, “bad things are going to happen.”

The Proud Boys are back: How the far-right group is rebuilding to rally behind Trump

The deterrent of jail for this all-male extremist group has dissipated as Trump has promised he’d pardon the January 6 perpetrators. It’s no surprise that most Americans fear election violence this year.

Trump and his loyalists are attacking pillars of the Democratic system: fair elections and fair trials. Any Republican who urges respect for the law, like Maryland Senate candidate Larry Hogan, has been ostracized by the Trump Republican party.

To be sure, the Manhattan criminal case was controversial and complicated, combining different state and federal laws. It can be credibly criticized. Sen. Mitt Romney said the prosecutor, instead, should have struck a plea deal with Trump. I seriously doubt that was possible but at least it’s a legitimate argument.

Still, this wasn’t a frivolous case. Trump falsified his books to cover up a payment to an adult film actress so she wouldn’t disclose a sexual relationship between them before the 2016 election. It wasn’t as serious as his indictments for illicitly trying to overturn the 2020 election or to steal classified documents when he left office.

An analogy: Al Capone was convicted, not of murder, but of tax evasion. That ended his crime career.

Most Republican attacks on the trial were unhinged and threatening.  Speaker Mike Johnson and leading House members and Senators decried the verdict as “un-American,” orchestrated by the White House.

The “Biden mastermind plot” —  it was a local District Attorney — was a charge by Sen. Tom Cotton who claimed the Justice Department was totally politicized. What about the federal indictments of Democrats, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar? With a straight face, the Arkansas Republican suggested that was because they criticized Biden.

In this ludicrous charge, Cotton brushed aside the particulars of these indictments, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars and gold bars as bribes from foreign entities. As for the Justice Department’s indictment of Hunter Biden, the President’s son, still on trial, Cotton claimed the President would just pardon him after the election.  The chutzpah of complaining about a hypothetical pardon after Trump pardoned all his political cronies.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio not only assailed the justice system, but charged election denialism was a Democrats’ problem.  But after the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, while dubious about the outcome, conceded on election night, didn’t challenge the electors and attended the Trump inaugural.

In 2004, a small number of House Democrats challenged the results, but the Presidential candidate, John Kerry, conceded, saying there was “no evidence” of voting problems that would have affected the outcome. In 2000, Al Gore gracefully conceded following a Supreme Court ruling.

By contrast, Donald Trump still hasn’t acknowledged that he certifiably lost the 2020 election, pressured almost two-thirds of House  Republicans to reject the results and incited a violent mob to stop the official count of electors.

Along with these lies, after the Manhattan verdict, Republicans say they will haul the New York District Attorney before Congress, will try to cut off funds for the Trump special prosecutor and will oppose any Biden nominations as punishment for the unanimous verdict of a jury.

This rhetoric is encouragement for violence-prone groups like the Proud Boys. They are back at Trump rallies and, as the Reuters article documents, are ready for battle, aware that Trump hasn’t ruled out violence.

It’s not just talk. The International Women’s Media Foundation, in a survey of 368 journalists covering the 2024 election, found a sizable percentage experiencing or threatened with physical or digital violence. Most of these threats, the IWMF, said, were from far right extremist groups.

The next six months will be a very ugly and dangerous time in American politics.