Strike three

Published August 3, 2023

By Thomas Mills

The third indictment of Donald Trump has caused the most reaction. The first one was over paying hush money to a porn star with whom he had tryst. The second indictment involved hording classified documents. The one delivered yesterday has to do with trying to subvert our democracy to stay in power. The charges ignite strong emotions. 

Among progressives and Democrats, the reaction has been pretty consistent. They applaud the special prosecutor, Jack Smith, and agree that no American is above the law. Conservatives and Republicans are deeply divided, depending how much they want to appease their base. 

Former Vice President Mike Pence may never be president, but he has found himself at the center of the investigation and has called on accountability for Trump. One of the most memorable quotations in the indictment is when Trump called him “too honest” when Pence balked at going along with the scheme to subvert the power of Congress to certify the election. In response to the indictment, Pence released a statement that said, “Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States.” I don’t often agree with Pence, but I do here and I’m glad he said it, even if he’s only stating the obvious. 

While a few never-Trumpers agree with Pence, the majority of the party does not—or at least won’t admit it if they do. Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott, both presidential candidates, released statements implying that the Justice Department had been “weaponized” as a political tool. However, Grand Juries recommended the indictments, not justice department officials. DeSantis and Scott are playing to the GOP base that has been duped by lies for the past few decades. Truth is a casualty of Republican politics.

Conservative legal pundits insist that, while Trump may be bad, the case against him is weak. Among the claims is that Trump actually believed that the election was stolen so he can’t be held accountable. Others say the charges are unprecedented without acknowledging that so were Trump’s actions. The political side is trying to tie Trump’s indictment to the Hunter Biden inquiries. There’s no comparison but the goal is to muddy the waters to try to convince voters that Democrats are just as corrupt as Republicans. 

Other legal experts think the charges are justified. While Republicans keep saying that prosecutors will need to convince jurors that Trump didn’t actually believe the Big Lie, analysts point out that he was told over and over again that the election was fair and his condemnation of Pence as being “too honest” is an admission that he knew better. 

My real thought is that Republicans have brought this on the country. Blame Mitch McConnell in particular. Had the Senate convicted Trump after his impeachment, we wouldn’t be here today. McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and numerous other elected Republicans blamed Trump for January 6 when it happened. Then, they refused to hold him accountable. Several GOP Senators who voted to acquit Trump did so because they said impeachment was a tool to remove someone from office, not hold them accountable after they had left. Those Senators should be supportive of the indictment. 

In the end, the latest indictment probably won’t have much impact on the Republican primary for president. Trump will continue to lead his opponents by wide margins. The GOP base will continue to believe that a widespread conspiracy is trying to take Trump down and take the country away from them, whatever that means. Republicans who know better will continue to pretend that they don’t and Fox News and conservative outlets will continue lying to the GOP’s gullible base, creating the outrage that motivates their voters.