A new test for Republicans: attack the Trump ruling or be sent out of the party

5 min read

Trump's fight to become president has a new front line.

I heard from someone close to the former president just minutes after he was found guilty on all 34 counts of crime on Thursday. They called what was happening in the Republican Party a "civil war."

Trump's campaign is using the fact that he was convicted of a crime as a sort of roll-call vote to see which leaders will defend the former president and which ones will defend the American legal system. It looks like you can't do both.

A weather balloon was sent up last night.

A moderate Republican named Larry Hogan is running for a Senate seat in Maryland, which leans liberal. He used social media to tell everyone to "respect the verdict and the legal process."

Within minutes, a top Trump campaign official named Chris LaCivita posted a very clear response to Mr. Hogan: "You just ended your campaign." It means that you are politically dead if you don't agree with us on this.

Someone else from the Republican Party who had worked on Trump's last campaign for president was asked if he thought that his party was in the middle of a "civil war." He didn't like the idea. And he thinks that any fight in his party was won a long time ago by Donald Trump.

He said, "Even if you don't like Trump, he's better than Joe Biden." "The choice is clear."

And it looks like most Republican politicians agree with him right now, at least in public.

Mike Johnson, Speaker of the House of Representatives, called Thursday "a shameful day in American history" and said that Trump's sentence was "purely political, not of law." Another important Republican in Congress, Steve Scalise, said that the American legal system worked like a banana republic. Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, said it was like a "kangaroo court."

However, Florida Senator Marco Rubio may have given the strongest defense of the former president. In 2016, when they were both running for the Republican nomination, Rubio was one of Trump's loudest critics.

Rubio said, "This is the height of a show trial." "This is what the communist world looks like." They told me stories about this as a child from people who were living outside of Cuba. It took place soon after the Castro revolution.

A lot of Americans will be shocked if you compare America's justice system to Cuba's, which doesn't have open trials, independent judges, or the rule of law. Mr. Rubio isn't just saying that these specific jurors were wrong when they found Trump guilty. He's going a lot farther than that. He is giving a harsh criticism of the American judicial system as a whole.

But there's a clear plan for politics at play here. Trump thinks that many of his problems are not with specific people, like voters or juries, so these kinds of defenses make sense. Instead, he thinks that many of the most important parts of American government—its media, its intelligence services, the court system, and the voting process—are unfairly set up against him. That's why, to loud cheers, he calls for the "deep state" to be broken up at his gatherings.

To Trump, saying that the United States' legal system is working well is the same thing as criticizing him, and criticizing him could make the former president and a lot of his party followers angry. A lot of Republican leaders don't want to take this step.

It's too early to tell if this could still turn into a civil war among Republicans or if Trump's power over his party after years will finally stop any real wave of protest.

What's clear, though, is how hard the Trump campaign has worked to get more support.

There have been a few times in Donald Trump's political career when scandals made it very likely that he would lose the support of his party. These include the Access Hollywood tape, his impeachments, his indictments, the FBI raid on his house, and so on.

He doesn't seem to have lost any of his party's most important leaders yet. But people might not feel the same way.

An ABC News/IPSOS poll from earlier this month found that one fifth of people who support Donald Trump said they would either change their minds or stop supporting him if he was found guilty of a crime.

These days, presidential elections are decided by a few thousand votes in a few "swing states." It's still unclear if this guilty decision will actually change that.

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