OPINION: The party of ‘law and order’ goes all in for Trump

Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court during jury deliberations in his criminal hush money trial in New York, Thursday, May 30, 2024. (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court during jury deliberations in his criminal hush money trial in New York, Thursday, May 30, 2024. (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)

We had an incredible tip at the AJC Thursday — a candidate for office may also have been convicted of a several crimes in the past.

In normal times, a convicted criminal running for office is the kind of story that would blow up a person’s candidacy and lead the news for days.

But these are not normal times. As I was working to learn more about the candidate, news broke that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, had been convicted of 34 felony charges in New York. And Republican leaders around the country … didn’t care.

Not only were Republican leaders not bothered by Trump’s felony convictions, they said they were offended by the fact he’d been brought up on charges at all.

House Speaker Mike Johnson called it “a shameful day in American history” and said the New York trial for trying to influence the 2016 election illegally was “a purely political exercise, not a legal one.” As for Trump, Johnson said in a statement, “he WILL WIN!”

Others said Trump was the victim of a justice system that has been “weaponized” against him. He’s an innocent man, they said.

In Georgia, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who has declared this a “law and order state,” called Trump a “political prisoner.” U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene posted an inverted American flag, the Alito-approved sign of distress, to social media. U.S. Rep. Mike Collins said it’s time for payback. “Time for Red State AGs and DAs to get busy,” he wrote on Twitter.

What world are we living in? The former president had his day in court and lost, convicted unanimously in the city where he lived his entire life. Was his conduct criminal? The jury certainly thought so. He has the right to appeal the decision and will.

But in the meantime, the former president is asking every Republican not just to throw aside the principles of law and order they say they believe in, but also to stand by him while he runs for president for a third time.

That could be a problem in Georgia, where 64% of voters in an AJC poll, including 40% of Republicans, said they would not vote for a political candidate convicted of a felony by a jury. It’s also a problem for Georgia Republican candidates in 2024, who now have to run with a convicted felon at the top of the ticket.

After two impeachments, an insurrection and, now, 34 felony convictions, any other presidential candidate would have stepped aside long ago, if not for the good of the country than at least for the good of his party. But Trump isn’t any candidate.

So along with dealing with the political problems the convictions will cause them, Republicans will now have to wrestle with other logistical obstacles they’ve never encountered before, like the fact that Trump, as a convicted felon, will only be able to vote for himself in November if he is not in jail.

Speaking of jail, legal experts say he can technically serve as president from prison, but a sentence would likely be suspended to avoid the constitutional crisis of having a president unable to have meetings, briefings, or regular outside communications. One of those communications would be the daily classified presidential briefing he would get, even though a felony conviction is usually grounds to deny security clearance.

The good news for the GOP is that it’s not too late for a Nikki Haley rescue mission. The Republican convention begins four days after Trump is scheduled to be sentenced in New York. While Trump’s poll numbers were close with Biden even before his felony conviction, every poll this year showed Haley would easily defeat President Joe Biden by double digits.

Republicans could not only win the White House back, but do so without the chaos and, now, criminality that Trump brings with him.

The bad news for Republicans is, they don’t seem to want to be saved. GOP leaders are not only willing, but eager, to stand up for Trump publicly, while his most loyal supporters see the convictions as proof that he was right all along about being a victim of Deep State Democrats.

A lone Republican to tell voters it’s important to “respect the rule of law” was Maryland’s former governor Larry Hogan, who is running for Senate. But he was quickly targeted for that lack of loyalty. “You just ended your campaign,” said Chris LaCivita, a senior Trump adviser, on X in response to Hogan’s comments.

So the party of law and order is now saying that not all convictions count and not all juries should be trusted. Maybe a Georgia candidate with a criminal conviction wouldn’t be such big news after all. He could even run for president someday.