Donald Trump, as we all know by now, understood the Republican Party’s voters better than the Republican elites did. But he also understood the Republican elites themselves. Several months ago, it seemed that Trump was so wild, so ignorant, so authoritarian, racist, sexist, and heretical to conservative doctrine that the party’s Establishment could never accept him. But Trump understood that if he did win the nomination, Republican leaders would be cynical enough to submit to his leadership. (Perhaps because Trump himself has the most cynical possible assumptions about human nature in general.) In Trump’s world, there are no principles, only deals.
The promised theme of day two of the Republican National Convention was “the economy.” Along with his promise to approve Republican judges, the economy is a major part of the reason Republican leaders have decided to endorse their nominee. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan delivered speeches pointing out that the nominee would sign their bills and advance their agenda, which is enough enticement for them to accept the long-term brand damage Trump inflicts upon the party, not to mention the possibility that he might win and destroy the rule of law.
Michael Mukasey, the former Bush Administration attorney general, delivered a blistering denunciation of Hillary Clinton’s email-server security practices by way of tacitly endorsing Trump. Five months ago, Mukasey contributed to National Review’s widely discussed “Against Trump” issue, where he wrote that Trump “says he would order the military to kill the families of terrorists. That would be a direct violation of the most basic laws of armed conflict,” and noted he “summons applause with tantrums and homicidal fantasies.” Mukasey is now a member of the burgeoning movement of Republicans Against Trump for Trump. The promised human-rights violations and homicidal fantasies may be less than ideal, but think of the email server!
It is fair to conclude that Clinton’s handling of the emails was, in the words of the Republican FBI director James Comey, “extremely careless,” and for this episode and others to raise doubts about her judgment. But for Republicans Against Trump for Trump to persuade themselves to vote the party line, more potent sins than extreme carelessness, or even mild corruption (which can also be persuasively alleged against the Clintons), are required. Many Republicans have framed their case against Clinton as a defense of the “rule of law.” And so, Chris Christie held a “mock trial,” in which delegates chanted “lock her up,” a process Republicans apparently deemed a more sober application of the law than Comey’s investigation.
After a night devoted in large part to Benghazi, several speeches brought up Benghazi yet again. Ben Carson drew out Clinton’s youthful connection to the hated Saul Alinsky, and then, via Alinsky, connected Clinton to Lucifer. (Really.) Carson was only taking literally the instructions — demonize the opponent — other speakers had taken figuratively.
It is worth contemplating the mental gymnastics required to believe Clinton threatens the rule of law but Trump does not. One has to believe that the Clintonian conspiracy to rule is so vast it has ensnared even Republican public servants, and that this outweighs such glaring danger signs as: Trump’s lavish praise for dictators precisely because they crush their opponents, his insistence a “Mexican” judge can’t sit on his fraud case, his refusal to release his tax information, his kleptocrat-style intermingling of business interests with governing, his insistence that any election he loses is “rigged,” his claim just the other day that he could violate the Constitution’s prohibition against a religious test because “it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, as a country,” and on and on. He has exposed “the rule of law” as a party rhetorical tic that means nothing more or less than “Republicans must rule.”