Donald Trump got millions of Republicans on board his crusade against America’s supposedly crooked system. He molded the GOP, after his own image, into an anti-establishment party. And now, with his indictment by the Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, he’s the establishment’s prime victim, a populist hero on the verge of becoming a political prisoner. There is no way for a Republican with “new-right” credibility to run against Donald Trump without defending Donald Trump. And there’s no way for a Republican without new-right credibility to become the nominee.
Under normal circumstances, an indicted presidential candidate is a non-starter. We’re nowhere near normal circumstances. If you need more proof, this is from a statement on the indictment released by the New York Young Republicans Club: “President Trump embodies the American people—our psyche from id to super-ego—as does no other figure; his soul is totally bonded with our core values and emotions, and he is our total and indisputable champion. This tremendous connection threatens the established order.” The statement ends with the bolded claim, “This is total war.”
Trump took a political party and fashioned it into a fantasy role-playing club. There are evil sorcerers, brave knights, monster hordes, liberating armies, and only one man—invested with superpowers—who can protect the realm. If you don’t play the game, you’re not in the club. Simple as that.
So what’s the current state of play? If you’re a Republican leader or a Republican presidential hopeful, you offer a full-throated defense of Trump before even seeing the contents of the indictment. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted, “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.” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise tweeted that Trump’s indictment is “one of the clearest examples of extremist Democrats weaponizing government to attack their political opponents.” When news of the indictment broke, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan tweeted simply, “Outrageous.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the only (“potential”) Republican presidential candidate polling in double digits behind Trump, called the indictment “un-American” and pledged, “Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda.” Declared Republican candidate Nikki Haley said that the indictment “is more about revenge than it is about justice.”
And the thing is, they might be right. Alvin Bragg’s case, as it was previously outlined in news reports, looks weak and tortured. And his effort to nab Trump reeks of a political witch hunt. Which means that if the case is thrown out or Trump wins, his power over the right will be even greater than it currently is. But we don’t know the exact charges against Trump or what evidence the grand jury saw. So maybe it would be wise to show some prudence. Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican from Nebraska, seems to think so. “I trust the system,” he told CNN. “We have a judge. We have jurors. There is appeals. So I think in the end, justice will be done. If he’s guilty it will show up. But if not, I think that will be shown too.”
But trust in the system only earns you the distrust of the new right. So if you’re DeSantis or Haley, you’re headed into a race where aggressively defending the frontrunner is a base qualification for running against him. If Donald Trump wasn’t facing the possibility of jail time, this would be the greatest political achievement in history. And if he beats the case, it might turn out to be just that.