Attack the Trump ruling or face deportation – a new test for Republicans

image source, REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

  • author, Katti K
  • stock, US Special Correspondent

Donald Trump has a new front-runner for the election.

Minutes after he was found guilty of all 34 felony counts on Thursday, I heard from someone close to the former president who described the moment as a “civil war” within the Republican Party.

Trump’s campaign is using the historic nature of Trump’s criminal conviction as a kind of roll-call poll to see which politicians will protect the former president and which of them will protect America’s legal system. It seems you can’t do both.

A weather balloon was sent up last night.

Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican running for an open Senate seat in liberal-leaning Maryland, took to social media to urge all Americans to “respect judgment and the legal process.”

Within minutes, Trump’s top campaign official, Chris Lacivita, recorded a blunt response to Mr Hogan: “You’re done with your campaign.” It means: If you are not with us, you are politically dead.

image source, REUTERS/Brian Snyder

image caption, Former Maryland governor Larry Hogan has been a Trump critic for years

I asked another Republican official who worked on Trump’s last presidential campaign if he agreed the moment was a “civil war” for his party. He rejected the idea. For him, any battle that was once within his party seems to have been won long ago — by Donald Trump.

“Even if you don’t like Trump, he’s better than what we have [in Joe Biden],” he said. “It’s an easy choice.”

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For now, the majority of Republican politicians seem to agree with him — at least publicly.

House Speaker Mike Johnson called Thursday “a shameful day in American history” and said Trump’s conviction was “purely a political exercise, not a legal one.” Another top Republican in Congress, Steve Scalise, said the US legal system was run like a banana republic. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis compared the process to “kangaroo court.”

But the former president’s fiercest defense may have come from Florida Senator Marco Rubio — who was one of Trump’s most vocal critics when they were contenders for the Republican nomination in 2016.

“It’s a great show trial,” Rubio said. “This is what you see in communist countries. This is what I grew up with people [Cuban exile] Tell me about the community. This happened in the post-Castro revolution days.

Comparing America’s justice system — with its independent juries and open trials and the rule of law — to communist Cuba would dismay many Americans. Mr. Rubio did not say that any particular judge made the wrong call in finding Trump guilty. He goes much further than that. He is condemning the entire legal system of America.

image source, REUTERS/Joe Skipper

image caption, Senator Rubio of Florida has become a strong Trump supporter

But there is a clear political strategy here. Many of Trump’s problems with these kinds of defenses are not with individuals — whether they’re voters or judges. Rather, he feels that many of the foundational structures of the American government, its electoral process and its justice system, its media, its intelligence agencies, are fundamentally and unfairly rigged against him. That is why, in his rallies, he calls for the “deep state” to be dismantled, with great fanfare.

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In Trump’s view, saying America’s legal system is working properly is a practical criticism of him — and criticizing him risks alienating the former president and his sizable supporters in the party. It’s a move many Republican officials are wary of taking.

It’s too early to tell whether this moment will turn into a civil war among Republicans, or whether Trump’s years-long stranglehold on his party will eventually stifle any meaningful dissent.

What is apparent, however, is how ferocious the Trump camp has been in gaining support.

Throughout Donald Trump’s political career, there have been some scandalous moments that risked losing him the support of his party: the Access Hollywood tapes, his impeachment, his impeachment, the FBI raid on his home — the list goes on.

For now, he seems to have avoided losing the most important politicians within his party. But this does not apply to voters.

Earlier this month, an ABC News/IPSOS poll found that a fifth of Donald Trump’s supporters said they would reconsider or withdraw their support if he were convicted.

In an era where presidential elections in a handful of states are ultimately decided by a few thousand voters, it remains to be seen whether this guilty verdict will finally move that dial.

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