Does the Conservative Rage Machine Go to 11?

Uh-oh. They’re angry now!

The conservative response to Donald Trump’s first criminal conviction has been an outpouring of demonstrative wrath. “It has never been more incumbent upon the Right to finally wake up and realize what is going on right now in this once-great nation,” thunders one conservative columnist. “From now on, the civil war inside the GOP will be between those who understand they must do to Democrats what Democrats have done to Trump, and those who think they can trundle along with business as usual,” exclaims another.

The mood extends from the Trumpiest corners of the conservative movement to its anti-anti-Trump wing. “Lotta Republicans who are in no way fans of Trump are outraged tonight at this egregious abuse of law,” notes National Review’s Dan McLaughlin. “Through two primaries and two general elections I have never voted for Trump. I would crawl over broken glass to vote for him now,” proclaims the Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll.

The intended message of all these responses is that Alvin Bragg, Judge Juan Merchan, and 12 jurors — or, as conservatives put it, “the Democrats” — have launched an attack so brazen it has snapped the conservatives awake from their stupor. They are insistent that the New York ruling has changed something about them.

Envisioning a world in which Republicans feel angry does not exactly strain the frontiers of our imaginations. While politics often involves getting people angry about the opposing side, the conservative movement has existed in a continuous state of terror and rage for its entire existence.

The first time I encountered the arresting image of a Republican who would crawl over broken glass to cast a vote was during the 2000 election. “Broken-glass Republicans” described an entire category of voter. The broken-glass Republicans of 2000 were so incandescently furious that Bill Clinton had lied about a sexual affair without legal consequences that they would do anything to prevent his totally innocent vice-president Al Gore from succeeding him.

Today, Republicans feel so angry a president is facing legal consequences for lying about an affair that they are again insisting they will crawl over broken glass to vote Republican. Perhaps there is a common thread here, and it is not a principled conservative belief on criminalizing the cover-up of a sexual affair.

When they offer specifics about what’s changed, conservatives insist that they now want to prosecute their political enemies. “Something that’s going to happen now that Democrats have prosecuted their main political opponent is they are going to tell voters it would be dangerous to elect Trump because he would seek to use the legal system to get revenge on his political opponents,” sniffs Republican consultant Noah Pollak. The Federalist’s Sean Davis instructs Republicans, “Give me a list of which Democrat officials you’re going to put in prison, or get lost.”

Of course, these lists already exist. A list of the critics Donald Trump has labeled as criminals includes but is by no means limited to Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, James Comey, and vast swaths of the government bureaucracy, some of whom he targeted with flimsy criminal investigations that collapsed in court.

Trump was framing his candidacy as one of “vengeance” a year ago. He was threatening to lock up his main rival eight years ago. To watch Republicans present these impulses as recourse they are only turning to now is an offense against not only logic but the space-time continuum. Next thing you know, Trump is going to be so angry about his conviction that he will resort to attempting to overturn an election result.

The whole supposed cause of Trump’s candidacy to begin with was a series of cultural and political slights that drove Republicans into his arms. The “Flight 93 Election” was the most dramatic rendering of this rationale, but less deranged conservatives than Michael Anton shared his basic reasoning that they were forced to support an admittedly flawed vessel like Donald Trump in order to stave off the horrible things that Hillary Clinton had done to them.

By now, most conservatives have forgotten the particulars that drove them to this state of panic and rage in 2016. They are stuck in a recursive loop of anger, waking up every morning as innocent babes, exposed to new affronts against their honor and driven to revenge. Somehow, things they did eight years ago can be cast as responses to the offenses they endure today.

You don’t need to completely dismiss Republican skepticism of the Manhattan case against Trump. It is a borderline case, one that almost certainly would not have been brought against an ordinary defendant.

However, Republicans can also acknowledge the unfairness of this case without spiraling into paranoia. Alvin Bragg is not “the Democrats,” and there is literally zero evidence that President Biden or the national party had any role in bringing these charges forward. And while it didn’t need to be brought, the case wasn’t meritless, as evidenced by the quick and unanimous agreement by the jury. (Yes, it took place in New York, but Trump held a rally in the city as recently as one week ago to demonstrate his support there — finding a single juror sympathetic enough to judge the facts fairly was a low burden.)

Trump has not been sentenced and can still appeal the case. More to the point, he can still run for president, and his supporters mostly say this verdict won’t harm him and might help.

However slanted against him this one case might have been, the overall suite of criminal charges he faces has treated him more than favorably. To Trump’s great benefit, the charge in which he is most indisputably guilty — stealing classified documents and covering up the theft — has been delayed to death by a friendly judge he appointed. Drawing a tough judge and prosecutor in one case is very different than saying the legal system has railroaded Trump. The opposite is closer to correct.

I’d advise them to step back and take a breath, except it would just make them angry. Everything makes them angry. Perhaps this is how we got here in the first place.

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