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Why Republican talking points on Trump’s indictment fall short

Why are the GOP's pro-Trump talking points so absurd? In part because much of the party is reluctant to acknowledge its core beliefs about accountability.


After the FBI executed a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago last summer, one of the more popular defenses from Donald Trump’s allies was also one of the least persuasive. “If the FBI can raid a U.S. president, imagine what they can do to you,” House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik declared at the time, echoing a common GOP talking point.

Of course, the problem was obvious: If you were accused of improperly taking sensitive government documents to your home and refused to give them back, then yes, FBI agents would inevitably show up on your doorstep, too.

Trump arraignment: Follow our live blog beginning at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday for the latest updates and analysis on Trump’s arrest in New York.

As the former president’s allies recycle talking points from last August, this same point appears to have made a comeback. Late last week, one of Trump’s attorneys, Joe Tacopina, sat down with NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie and expressed eerily similar concerns:

“Today it’s Donald Trump. Tomorrow it’s a Democrat. The day after it’s, I don’t know, your friend. The day after that it’s you or me. And that’s what concerns me.”

Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona pushed a similar line last week, tweeting, “If they can come for [Trump], they can come for anyone.”

My fellow Americans, I have some bad news for you. Tacopina and Biggs aren’t altogether wrong: If you pay hush money to a porn star as part of a pre-election scheme, lie about it, and record the payment as a business expense, it’s quite likely that you might also face criminal charges.

Why anyone would find this “concerning” is less clear.

As talking points go, this obviously isn’t going to persuade many people, but stepping back, it’s hard not to notice that the former president’s allies and fellow partisans have come up with all sorts of arguments in recent days, but none of them is compelling.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is controlled by George Soros? No, he’s not. The indictment is meritless? Possibly, but those peddling this line have no idea what’s in the indictment. Local prosecutors should be focused more on Manhattan’s soaring crime rates? Crime in Manhattan has actually gone down since Bragg took office.

It’s unprecedented to charge a former American president? This one’s true, but it’s also irrelevant. Such things don’t happen in advanced, modern democracies? Sure they do. Treating falsified business records as a crime is unheard of? Prosecutors in the district attorney’s have filed 117 felony counts for falsification of business records since Bragg took office.

The indictment was intended to hurt Trump politically? I suppose that’s possible, though Trump’s allies keep insisting that the indictment will help Trump politically, effectively pushing back against their own side’s talking points. Launching criminal investigations into leading presidential candidates is, practically by definition, an abuse and evidence of intervention in an election? As I recall, during the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton faced a criminal investigation, and Republicans didn’t seem to mind.

Other prosecutors looked at this case and passed on prosecution? This is a personal favorite because we know Bill Barr’s Justice Department derailed the federal investigation into the hush money scandal. Indeed, Bragg’s predecessor told MSNBC’s Jen Psaki over the weekend that federal prosecutors during the Trump administration “asked us to stand down.”

As for why these talking points are falling woefully short, there are a couple of angles to keep in mind. The first is that defending Trump in this case just isn’t easy, and Republicans are struggling because there are no compelling talking points available.

But the second problem is that the former president’s allies are generally reluctant to speak candidly about their core contention. As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman explained well, the underlying point Republicans have alluded to is that “any charges against Trump ... should be seen as presumptively illegitimate no matter the counts against Trump or the facts that underlie them.”

Quite right. The aforementioned talking points are largely laughable because they’re forced and insincere. What too many Republicans actually believe is far simpler: It’s outrageous for a Democrat to have uncovered evidence of Trump’s alleged wrongdoing and take steps to hold him accountable.