June 6, 2024 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

The GOP response to Trump’s conviction is incoherent until you remember the conspiracy theories that animate it

It’s time to state the obvious, writes Lindsay Beyerstein.

Courtesy of MSNBC, via screenshot.
Courtesy of MSNBC, via screenshot.

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Merrick Garland is a reasonable man in unreasonable times. 

Predictably, Republicans responded to Donald Trump’s 34 state felony convictions by loudly proclaiming the outlandish conspiracy theory that president Joe Biden engineered Trump’s conviction. 

Rather than grapple with the unanimous verdict of 12 jurors who heard the evidence, Republicans have conjured a conspiracy to justify their self-righteous anger and their plans for revenge. 

Conspiratorial thinking is essential to this project because it allows maga Republicans to cast themselves as martyrs rather than accomplices. 

Republicans have conjured a conspiracy to justify their self-righteous anger and their plans for revenge. 

On Tuesday, the attorney general had uncharacteristically blunt remarks for the House Judiciary Committee, which is dominated by some of Trump’s most zealous partisans. 

For Garland, it was time to state the obvious. 

“We do not control the Manhattan district attorney, the Manhattan district attorney does not report to us,” Garland testified. “It comes alongside false claims that a jury verdict in a state trial, brought by a local district attorney, was somehow controlled by the Justice Department.” 

“That conspiracy theory is an attack on the judicial process itself,” he added. He’s absolutely right. Maga has used a conspiracy theory to justify their wholesale rejection of the rule of law. 

It’s not a conspiracy theory to think Trump is innocent of paying off a porn star to win an election, or that every day should be The Purge for fascist billionaires. One of those opinions is stupid and the other is despicable – but they’re not inherently conspiratorial. Whereas, any version of “Biden engineered Trump’s prosecution and fixed the outcome of his trial” is a conspiracy theory and it’s the Republican Party line. 

Rather than blaming Trump for falsifying business records to win an election – or themselves for nominating a candidate facing dozens of felony charges – a group of far-right Republican senators accused the White House of “making a mockery of the rule of law” and altering our politics in “unAmerican ways.” In retaliation for this wholly imaginary injustice, they pledged to oppose Biden’s legislative agenda. They were already doing that, but it’s the paranoid thought that counts.

“An incoherent response to a case brought by the Manhattan DA in state court in front of a state judge. What do Democratic senators have to do with it?” tweeted noted muckraker Judd Legum. 

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In fact, the Republican response is perfectly coherent if you fill in the blanks with a conspiracy theory, as the maga faithful do instinctively.

Some, like Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, falsely alleged that Biden schemed to have the Department of Justice assassinate Trump during the search of Mar-a-Lago. 

One advantage of avenging imaginary crimes is that you can adjust the size of the transgression to justify your preferred punishment. 

Magas are vying to outdo each other with the bloodthirstiness of the punishments they want to inflict on the Democrats, the legal system and the left. 

Former Justice Department official turned J6 co-conspirator Jeff Clark urged Trump to sue Bragg under a convoluted theory that reminded everyone that Clark’s expertise was environmental law. 

Trump strategist Steve Bannon, threatened to throw New York prosecutor Bragg in prison if Trump is reelected. 

“Not just jail, they should get the death penalty,” said Laura Loomer, a far-right activist and associate of Donald Trump. 

Conspiracism is the dominant discourse of the Republican Party. Every item in their agenda has a conspiracist spin. 

The Great Replacement theory was once relegated to the fringe, but today it is front-and-center in GOP immigration rhetoric. 

Elected Republicans routinely call for the defunding of the FBI, the DOJ, and other mechanisms of accountability on the grounds that they’ve been “weaponized” by the “deep state.” 

This kind of talk was relegated to Infowars a decade ago, but now you hear it on “Meet the Press.” The House GOP conference has squandered its time in the majority investigating conspiracy theories ranging from a US government cover-up of alien visitations to lab leak theories to advanced topics in Hunter Biden. 

You have to wonder if the magas believe their own outlandish rhetoric. There are some true believers, but for most, this embrace of frothing conspiracism is an excuse to justify the authoritarian measures they’ve long wanted to implement. 

“To say that Joe Biden brought this case is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard,” former Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina said during a TV appearance. “We know that’s not the case, and even Trump’s lawyers know that’s not the case.”

Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.

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