Sen. Joseph McCarthy's (R-Wis) at a March 9, 1950 session of a hearing on McCarthy's charges of Communist infiltration in the state department. McCarthy,...
AP Photo/Herbert K. White

‘McCarthyism’ doesn’t mean what Trump thinks it means

As part of an online tantrum against Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia scandal, Donald Trump described the probe over the weekend as “McCarthyism at its WORST!” The president added:

“Study the late Joseph McCarthy, because we are now in period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby! Rigged Witch Hunt!”

American history has never been one of the president’s strong suits, but let’s quickly review some of the more glaring problems with this latest salvo.

First, Trump might want to read his first book. In “The Art of the Deal,” his ghostwriter wrote, “Tough as he was, Roy Cohn had a lot of friends, and I’m not embarrassed to say I was one. He was a truly loyal guy.”

In a more recent interview with the Washington Post, Trump said of Cohn, “Some people didn’t like him, and some people were offended by him. I mean, they would literally leave a dinner. I had one evening where three or four people got up from a table and left the table because they couldn’t stand the mention of his name. But with all of that being said, he did a very good job for me as a lawyer. I get a kick out of winning, and Roy would win.”

Cohn, of course, served as Joe McCarthy’s chief counsel and right-hand man.

Second, don’t many of Trump’s pals actually like Joe McCarthy and defend his legacy? Steve Bannon, among other prominent Trump allies, has defended the Wisconsin Republican and his infamous witch hunts.

And third, if anyone in contemporary politics can credibly claim the mantle to McCarthyism, it’s the president who’s now asking us to “study” the late senator’s tactics. To understand anything about McCarthyism is to recognize the fact that the GOP demagogue relied on baseless allegations and conspiracy theories to generate fear. When pressed for evidence to support his incendiary accusations, McCarthy always refused, lashing out at those who asked.

Sound familiar? Highlighting Trump’s preoccupation with projecting his faults onto his perceived enemies, Politico  added this morning that the presidential tweet “was far more a mirror on Trump than an indictment of Mueller.”