Donald Trump this month became the first former or incumbent American president to be charged with crimes against the nation that he once led and wishes to lead again. He cynically calculated that his indictment would ensure that a riled-up Republican Party base would nominate him as its standard-bearer in 2024, and the last few weeks have proved that his political calculation was probably right.
The former president's behavior may have invited charges, but the Republicans' spineless support for the past two years convinced Mr. Trump of his political immortality, giving him the assurance that he could purloin some of the nation's most sensitive national security secrets upon leaving the White House — and preposterously insist that they were his to do with as he wished — all without facing political consequences. Indeed, their fawning support since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol has given Mr. Trump every reason to believe that he can ride these charges and any others not just to the Republican nomination, but also to the White House in 2024.
In a word, the Republicans are as responsible as Mr. Trump for this month's indictment — and will be as responsible for any indictment and prosecution of him for Jan. 6. One would think that, for a party that has prided itself for caring about the Constitution and the rule of law, this would stir some measure of self-reflection among party officials and even voters about their abiding support for the former president. Surely before barreling headlong into the 2024 presidential election season, more Republicans would realize it is time to come to the reckoning with Mr. Trump that they have vainly hoped and naïvely believed would never be necessary.
But by all appearances, it certainly hasn't occurred to them yet that any reckoning is needed. As only the Republicans can do, they are already turning this ignominious moment into an even more ignominious moment — and a self-immolating one at that — by rushing to crown Mr. Trump their nominee before the primary season even begins. Building the Republican campaign around the newly indicted front-runner is a colossal political miscalculation, as comedic as it is tragic for the country. No assemblage of politicians except the Republicans would ever conceive of running for the American presidency by running against the Constitution and the rule of law. But that's exactly what they're planning.
The stewards of the Republican Party have become so inured to their putative leader, they have managed to convince themselves that an indicted and perhaps even convicted Donald Trump is their party's best hope for the future. But rushing to model their campaign on Mr. Trump's breathtakingly inane template is as absurd as it is ill fated. They will be defending the indefensible.
On cue, the Republicans kicked their self-defeating political apparatus into high gear this month. Almost as soon as the indictment in the documents case was unsealed, Mr. Trump jump-started his up-to-then languishing campaign, predictably declaring himself an "innocent man" victimized in "the greatest witch hunt of all time" by his "totally corrupt" political nemesis, the Biden administration. On Thursday, he added that it was all part of a plot, hatched at the Justice Department and the F.B.I., to "rig" the 2024 election against him.
From his distant second place, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida denounced the Biden administration's "weaponization of federal law enforcement" against Mr. Trump and the Republicans. Mike Pence dutifully pronounced the indictment political. And both Governor DeSantis and Mr. Pence pledged — in a new Republican litmus test — that on their first day in office they would fire the director of the F.B.I., the Trump appointee Christopher Wray, obviously for his turpitude in investigating Mr. Trump. It fell to Kevin McCarthy, the House speaker, to articulate the treacherous overarching Republican strategy: "I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice. House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable."
There's no stopping Republicans now, until they have succeeded in completely politicizing the rule of law in service to their partisan political ends.
If the indictment of Mr. Trump on Espionage Act charges — not to mention his now almost certain indictment for conspiring to obstruct Congress from certifying Mr. Biden as the president on Jan. 6 — fails to shake the Republican Party from its moribund political senses, then it is beyond saving itself. Nor ought it be saved.
There is no path to the White House for Republicans with Mr. Trump. He would need every single Republican and independent vote, and there are untold numbers of Republicans and independents who will never vote for him, if for no other perfectly legitimate reason than that he has corrupted America's democracy and is now attempting to corrupt the country's rule of law. No sane Democrat will vote for Mr. Trump — even over the aging Mr. Biden — when there are so many sane Republicans who will refuse to vote for Mr. Trump. This is all plain to see, which makes it all the more mystifying why more Republicans don't see it.
When Republicans faced an 11th-hour reckoning with another of their presidents over far less serious offenses almost 50 years ago, the elder statesmen of the party marched into the Oval Office and told Richard Nixon the truth. He had lost his Republican support and he would be impeached if he did not resign. The beleaguered Nixon resigned the next day and left the White House the day following.
Such is what it means to put country over party. History tends to look favorably upon a party that writes its own history, as Winston Churchill might have said.
Republicans have waited in vain for political absolution. It's finally time for them to put the country before their party and pull back from the brink — for the good of the party, as well as the nation.
If not now, then they must forever hold their peace
Q. What is the difference between a law-abiding gun owner and a criminal?
A. The .2 of a second that it takes to pull a trigger.