Last week, Donald Trump did something no American president has ever done: he told the world that there was “an attempted overthrow of the United States government.” The president, as part of the same tirade, repeatedly claimed that he’d been the victim of an attempted “coup.”
This was, by any fair measure, quite bonkers, and most observers, having grown accustomed to the Republican saying strange things, responded by shrugging their shoulders. But this morning, one of Trump’s closest congressional allies argued on the record that the president’s bizarre rhetoric was rooted in fact.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday that he agrees with President Trump’s assessment that he was the subject of an attempted “coup” during the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Appearing at a Washington Post Live event, McCarthy pointed to text messages between two senior FBI officials involved in the probe of possible connections between Trump associates and Russia that showed an intense dislike of Trump and fear that he might win.
“Their actions are a coup,” McCarthy told post reporter Robert Costa, who pressed the top Republican in the House on whether he believed the word “coup” was appropriate.
No, there was no attempted coup, and the House Minority Leader endorsing such reckless rhetoric will only embolden Trump further. Whether Kevin McCarthy appreciates this or not, appeasing presidential nonsense only serves to encourage more nonsense.
But what I’m especially concerned about is what happens next.
As a rule, when leaders – especially those with authoritarian instincts – talk about having defeated a “coup” attempt, what often follows is a period of official, state-sanctioned retributions and civil-liberties abuses.
We’ve unlikely to see anything similar in the United States, but what’s less clear is whether to be concerned about related efforts. For example, will Trump and his allies justify their opposition to oversight and accountability by saying it’s a response to a failed “coup”?
I’d also love to hear more about who, exactly, Trump and McCarthy are targeting here. Or put another way, in their conspiracy theory, who were the ringleaders of the “coup” attempt? Does the list include Special Counsel Robert Mueller? How about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and oversaw the probe?
Are the president and his party now of the opinion that any scrutiny of his scandals, and the scheme that helped elevate Trump to power, should necessarily be seen as part of an attempted “coup”?