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Republicans have a new favorite word after Trump cases

Right-wingers baselessly claim the former president's indictments indicate a war on conservatives being waged through the courts.


Conservatives have a new term they like to use to message their victimhood to the world: "lawfare.” 

Ever heard it? Think “warfare,” but instead of guns, the weapons of choice are gavels and lawyers. It essentially means using the law — often dubiously — to dismantle an opponent. And after former President Donald Trump’s four criminal indictments, right-wingers are using the term to bash liberals while also vowing to use lawfare themselves. 

Perhaps you see the irony here. 

Today’s Republican Party largely backs a man — Trump — and his cronies, people who openly engaged in shady efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Can you legitimately accuse someone of legal warfare when your crew stands accused of manipulating the law as part of a war on democracy? 

Republicans are trying it.

Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, is facing racketeering charges alongside Trump and 18 others in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ election interference probe. On Monday, Clark’s lawyers accused Willis of lawfare as they sought to have his case moved to federal court. 

“We have faith that the federal courts will ultimately recognize this Action for what it is — a naked attempt to destroy Mr. Clark by 'lawfare,' cost him millions in legal fees, impair his work in the conservative legal community at the Center for Renewing America in Washington, D.C., and tarnish his previously stellar reputation,” the lawyers wrote in a court filing.

During an appearance Sunday on Fox News, former Trump adviser Stephen Miller called on Republicans to wage lawfare against Democrats in response to the Fulton County indictment. 

“The only way this ends — and I hate to say it, but it’s true — is if Republicans return lawfare in kind,” Miller said. “That is the only way you could ever create the political conditions for a cease-fire, otherwise one side gets pulverized and it keeps getting pulverized.”

Last week, Trump lawyer Alina Habba decried “political lawfare” before the Georgia indictment had even been announced. "I'm frankly just sick of it," she said.

Earlier this month, pro-Trump super PAC MAGA, Inc. sent an email to supporters claiming a "distinct pattern" was emerging: "Every time that Biden wrongdoing is uncovered, President Trump is targeted by Democrat lawfare."

And as The Daily Beast noted, Trump's indictment in special counsel Jack Smith’s election interference probe sent Fox News hosts Jesse Watters and Greg Gutfeld into a conspiratorial tailspin on Aug. 1, with Watters calling the move lawfare equivalent to “15 dozen” atomic bombs. 

From The Daily Beast:

“I just see again, it’s war, it’s lawfare,” Gutfeld seethed. “We’re not supposed to understand this. This is supposed to be out of our hands, out of our control. Donald Trump is probably one of the most consequential leaders of our lifetime. He was outside the box. He didn’t play well with others — others being insiders. This is the payback.” Watters piggybacked on his colleague’s tirade and added his own twist. “This is like lawfare, they call it. Legal warfare. If this was political, this would be a political war crime. This is overkill,” he raged. “This is political germ warfare. These are political war crimes. It’s an atrocity. It’s, like, not just dropping one atomic bomb, you drop 15 dozen!”

It’s been a gradual build toward the right-wing tantrum we’re witnessing now, and the right-wing echo chamber clearly seems to have gotten the memo on the “lawfare” line of attack. 

Rep. Eli Crane, R-Ariz., used it in a tweet in June denouncing Smith’s indictment of Trump for his refusal to return classified documents to the government.

"They can’t beat him straight up so we’ll continue to see a continued attempt to take him out with lawfare," Crane complained.

But even before then, conservatives had openly threatened to engage in lawfare and some even spoke about it positively. 

In April, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., suggested liberals should beware of lawfare raining upon them after Trump was indicted in Manhattan on fraud charges

And right-wing extremist podcaster Charlie Kirk sat with conservative lawyer Harmeet Dhillon in January for an interview in which both pushed for a "New Era of Conservative LAWFARE."

The GOP's infatuation with lawfare shouldn't come as a surprise. Last December, when I wrote about Dhillon's bid to become chair of the Republican National Committee, I explained that a major selling point for her supporters was that she was vowing to hire an army of conservative lawyers to attempt to impose a right-wing agenda — including election denialism — on Americans through the courts.

When you boil it down, the Republican logic around lawfare is simple. It's fine for them to dream about prosecuting and locking up their political opponents. But when they're faced with the law, something nefarious must be afoot.