The Republican party has transformed into the Trump Maga party | Sidney Blumenthal

The Republican leaders were of one mind: if the Republican president committed a crime, he could no longer hold office. They had defended him to a point, but they understood that with proof of criminality they would withdraw their support. Even before the evidence was conclusive, their ultimate judgment about their constitutional duty and of the president’s was certain. “If it can be proved that he lied, resignation would have to be considered. It would be quick. Everything would be over, ended. It wouldn’t drag out like impeachment.” So stated senator Barry Goldwater, a previous Republican presidential nominee, still the icon of the conservative movement, in May 1973.

It did not matter that Richard Nixon was popular, that he had won the presidency twice, the last time just a year earlier, in a landslide, carrying 49 states. Goldwater did not know that after he made his statement, the “smoking gun” tape would be revealed on 5 August 1974. He and the other Republican leaders, however, did know then that a president who had authorized payment of hush money to the Watergate burglars in order win an election and had engaged in a coverup to thwart both the investigation and accountability in the courts would have to quit or face impeachment and removal.

On 6 August, at the Senate Republican Conference lunch, Goldwater exclaimed: “There are only so many lies you can take, and now there has been one too many. Nixon should get his ass out of the White House – today!” The next day, Goldwater, the House Republican leader John Rhodes and the Senate Republican leader Hugh Scott traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House to deliver the message to Nixon that he was doomed. In his memoir, Goldwater wrote that Nixon “knew beyond any doubt that one way or another his presidency was finished. None of us doubted the outcome. He would resign.” On 9 August, Nixon wrote a letter of one sentence: “I hereby resign the Office of President of the United States.”

Within minutes of the jury delivering its verdict in the trial of The People of the State of New York versus Donald J Trump, convicting him of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to coverup hush-money payments in order to suppress information about his illicit adulterous affairs to win the election, the Republican leaders released their prepared statements of support. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, who played a leading role in trying to overturn the 2020 election, went on Fox News to assure its viewers that the supreme court would soon overturn the conviction: “I think that the justices on the court – I know many of them personally – I think they are deeply concerned about that, as we are. So I think they’ll set this straight.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the charges “never should have been brought in the first place”, and predicted the conviction would “be overturned on appeal”. One after another, Republicans lined up to denounce the verdict, the judicial system and New York – “the Manhattan kangaroo court”, according to Congressman Jim Jordan. They hate New York.

“I am a political prisoner,” Trump protested in a fundraising email. But, “the good news”, he said in his press conference the day after the verdict, was that he had raised millions. He said he had wanted to testify in the trial, as he promised he would, but that was a lie. If he had testified, he and his lawyers knew, he would have lied, like he lied in his press conference. His cowardice saved himself from a perjury rap.

Trump’s self-image as a martyr was embraced by more than his Republican acolytes. Now, three months after the murder of Alexei Navalny, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov stated: “The fact that a de facto elimination of political rivals by all possible legal and illegal means is going on there is obvious.” Trump supporter, the representative Nancy Mace, echoed Peskov’s remark, tweeting: “There’s no difference: Putin silences Navalny, Biden’s DOJ targets Trump. The left’s outrage over Navalny is hypocritical as they cheer on Biden’s tyranny.”

The Republican party of Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes and Hugh Scott is not even a flickering shadow of a memory. Both Nixon and Trump succeeded during their campaigns in covering up their sordid transactions through bribery. When Nixon’s perfidy was finally exposed the Republican leaders accepted the truth. His party support crumbled. He had no alternative to leaving. But when Trump’s conviction on all counts was announced, the Republican leaders rallied ‘round his upside-down flag. None of them remembered the events of 50 years ago, or cared if they did. The party still carries the name of “Republican”, but it is a party transformed. It is the Trump Maga party.

Trump hails the imprisoned January 6 insurrectionists as “hostages” and promises to pardon them. In the shadow of the Capitol, at the headquarters of the Heritage Foundation, whose Project 2025 is an authoritarian blueprint for a second Trump term, the upside-down flag signaling insurrectionist sympathy was hoisted within moments of the jury’s verdict of Trump’s guilt.

The Republican party today is the fruit of the poisoned tree. Trump has thoroughly tainted all of its branches. The party’s central organizing principles are impunity from justice and contempt for the rule of law, which have always and everywhere been the hallmarks of despotism.

The zombie party it is prepared to nominate a felon in a convention beginning four days after his sentencing. Before Trump emerges on stage through clouds of dry ice smoke, he will be preceded by speakers seeking to exceed each other in tirades against the evil of the judicial system.

There are very few Republicans left to terminate for treason to Trump. Isolated heretics, like Liz Cheney, have been long purged from the ranks. Larry Hogan, an outlying old-style moderate, the former governor of Maryland, currently running for the Senate, perhaps the decisive figure for its capture by Republicans, urged the public to “respect the verdict and the legal process”. In an instant, Trump campaign adviser Chris LaCivita replied: “You just ended your campaign.” If Hogan ever stood a chance, it is now evaporated. Respect for the law is disloyalty to Trump. In front of Trump Tower the day after the verdict waved a huge flag: “Trump Or Death”. Every Republican candidate for every office must now pledge fealty to a felon, declare an oath to his victimhood and show contempt for the justice system. Then they can feign campaigns as law-and-order candidates.

For all of his rage against the judicial system, Trump’s protectors on the courts have spared him from the worst of the charges he rightfully should bear. Before his conviction in the Manhattan courtroom, he should have already been tried in federal courts for his crimes in the January 6 insurrection, his theft of national security documents and obstruction of justice.

The conservative majority on the supreme court has shielded him through unwarranted delays in the presidential immunity case, which it will almost certainly further delay by referring it back to the appeals court to engage needlessly in defining distinctions between official and personal business. Intervening as a political actor, the court has granted Trump de facto immunity for the course of the campaign.

By contrast, in United States v Nixon, the supreme court in July 1974 unanimously decided within two weeks on Nixon’s executive privilege in controlling his White House tapes. The court rejected his “absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances”. One justice, William Rehnquist, recused himself from the case because he had been the assistant attorney general who had fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox on Nixon’s order in the Saturday Night Massacre. He did not want even an appearance of a conflict of interest. No matter the result, he felt the necessity of ethical obligation.

On the Roberts Court, by contrast, two justices with apparent conflicts of interest, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, adamantly refuse to recuse themselves. Thomas’s wife Ginni was a political operative in organizing the false electors scheme in Arizona and in helping to coordinate the events leading to the insurrection. Alito’s wife, it seems, at least according to Alito, was responsible for flying flags that were emblems of the insurrection at their Virginia residence and New Jersey beach house. Alito disclaims any ability or will of his own to lower those flags. “My wife loves to fly flags,” he said. Happy wife, happy life.

But his chronology of events does not match that of his neighbor, whom he blamed for provoking poor beset Martha-Ann Alito to raise the banners in the first place by exhibiting nasty anti-Trump signs. The neighbor, for her part, said Martha-Ann spat at her family. Trump praised Alito for being “strong”, and Chief Justice John Roberts rebuffed inquiries about the ethical quandaries of Thomas and Alito from the Senate judiciary committee. The history and tradition of stonewalling is the predicate for the Trump immunity ruling. Trump has infected the supreme court down to the wives.

In the national security papers case in Florida, a federal judge appointed by Trump, Aileen Cannon, has used every contrivance to thwart the special prosecutor Jack Smith and to prevent the case from moving to trial. She stands in the sharpest contrast to Judge John J Sirica, of the US district court in Washington, who relentlessly and expeditiously pressed to expose the underpinnings of the Watergate scandal and to push the Nixon tapes to the supreme court for a speedy resolution. If someone like Sirica were presiding over the Florida case, the trial would have been held by now and Trump almost certainly convicted, which would have figured as a prior conviction to toughen the sentencing in the Manhattan case.

Outside the courthouse, Trump mixed in criminals with congressmen to join his cheerleading section. There was a Hells Angels biker, Chuck Zito, close to the Gambino crime family who served six years in prison. There were also two rappers, Michael Williams, AKA Sheff G, and Tegan Chambers, AKA Sleepy Hallow, currently indicted with other alleged gang members on 140 felony counts for attempted murder conspiracy.

The unanswered question about these criminals’ association with Trump remains: what’s in it for them? They are not known to be motivated by political ideas. If Trump paid them, arranged to pay them, or for them to receive anything of value, it would have been a bizarre refraction of the charges for which he was convicted.

Just as Trump surrounded himself with criminals, he suffused his party from top to bottom with criminality. Then the jury decided that he is a criminal. “That the defendant, Donald J Trump, is guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, to conceal a scheme to corrupt the 2016 election,” stated Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg.

Trump will appeal his conviction, but the history cannot be appealed. Historians operate on different methods than judges and juries. Yet the verdict contributes to settling the history. Pundits may continue to quibble about this or that about the trial and its aftermath. Historians cannot doubt that Trump won the presidency in 2016 at least in part through criminal means.

The Guardian