It was nearly two weeks ago when Donald Trump published a prediction: The former president said he expected to be indicted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Tuesday, March 21. As a New York Times report noted soon after, the message was effectively “a starter’s gun for Republican officials,” and many dutifully raced to tout their support.
Prominent GOP officials ran even faster after Team Trump made clear that it was keeping score, paying careful attention to who was scrambling to defend the former president and who wasn’t.
After yesterday’s indictment, Republicans who responded to Trump’s starter’s gun two weeks ago began their second lap. The Times summarized:
Republican leaders in Congress lamented the moment as a sad day in the annals of United States history. Conservative news outlets issued a call to action for the party’s base. One prominent supporter of Donald J. Trump suggested that the former president’s mug shot should double as a 2024 campaign poster.
There’s no real point in quoting the dozens of GOP voices who spoke out, most of whom expressed their outrage in similar ways. There were plenty of tiresome references to a certain Hungarian-American philanthropist (despite the fact that George Soros has never even met Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg), and to crime rates in New York (despite the fact that crime in Manhattan has actually gone down since Bragg took office).
But a written statement from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — who famously said he’d “had it with this guy“ in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot, only to kiss Trump’s ring at Mar-a-Lago soon after — stood out as notable. From the California Republican’s tweet, published soon after the indictment was made public:
“Alvin Bragg has irreparably damaged our country in an attempt to interfere in our Presidential election. As he routinely frees violent criminals to terrorize the public, he weaponized our sacred system of justice against President Donald Trump. The American people will not tolerate this injustice, and the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account.”
The GOP leader tends to ignore my calls, but the one thing I’d love to ask him is a simple, four-word question: “How do you know?”
When I say that Republicans defending Trump have no idea what they’re talking about, I’m being rather literal. None of these GOP voices has seen the indictment. None of these GOP voices has assessed the evidence. None of these GOP voices even knows what crimes the former president has been (or will be) accused of.
So how does McCarthy know the indictment is an “injustice”? What makes the House speaker so sure that this indictment is an “abuse”?
The answer, of course, is that neither McCarthy nor any of the other Republicans rallying behind Trump actually care whether the charges have merit or not. Bragg’s indictment might be unpersuasive, or it might be devastating. Either way, the former president’s partisans will ignore it because their campaign has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with politics.
It’s not as if any of us can imagine one of Trump’s allies reading the still-sealed indictment and publishing a tweet that reads, “On second thought, it looks like prosecutors have assembled a strong case here.” Republicans have settled on a conclusion — the corrupt former president is pure as the driven snow — and they’re working backwards to justify their loyalty.
I’m reminded of a point NBC News’ First Read team made last week: “Can we take a deep breath? Exercise some caution? And let the justice system work its course? After all, it was just a few months ago when Republicans attacked the FBI for searching Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. But those criticisms quickly died down after it got reported what the ex-president had at his Florida home (like classified documents on Iran and China).”
Now that he’s been indicted, Trump will have an opportunity to present a defense, and his allies will have an opportunity to learn what exactly he’s been accused of. Until then, if Republicans expect their hysterics to be taken seriously, they should probably lower their expectations.