the national interest

If Trump Is Impeached or Defeated, Conservatives Will Call It a ‘Coup’

Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

“At some point it won’t just be marches on Capitol Hill from a few Republican congressmen that the Resistance will have to deal with,” writes Mollie Hemingway. “It is unclear what the proper reaction to an unrelenting campaign to overturn the result of the 2016 election should be exactly, but they should stop expecting people to be as polite as they have been in response.”

Is that a threat? Well, it isn’t not a threat.

Hemingway, a senior editor at the Federalist, Fox News contributor, and senior journalism fellow at Hillsdale College, occupies an important place in the right-wing media universe. She sits at the nexus between the most transparently insane conspiracy theorists of the alt-right and blue-blood conservative institutions, and receives regular Twitter praise from Trump. Her opus provides a window into the party’s rage and a directional sign of its strategic course.

As the impeachment produces ever more redundant proof that President Trump corrupted foreign policy for political gain, Republican thoughts are beginning to turn toward what leftists delicately term “direct action,” and what conservatives usually call — at least when the other side is doing it — “mob rule.” The storming and disruption of a bipartisan House Intelligence Committee last week may just be a start.

At no point in her manifesto does Hemingway attempt even a cursory defense of Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal. Instead, she repeats her oft-stated claim that the Russia investigation was a deep-state coup, and presents the Ukraine scandal as an extension of the same effort, sparing her the difficulty of explaining away the damning combination of internal communications, testimony, and on-camera confessions establishing Trump’s scheme to leverage American influence over Ukraine for his political ends. The closest she comes is to dismiss the entire scandal as “something something Ukraine.” (“Following a few returning visits to the 25th Amendment fever swamps, where Resistance members fantasize that they could get Trump’s cabinet to undo the 2016 election, or speculation that Trump might resign, they have landed on something something Ukraine.”)

Hemingway likewise makes no effort to support her premise that Republicans have been “polite” in response to impeachment. The White House sent out a raving, legally absurd note claiming for Trump the right to decide when Congress does and does not have the right to impeach him. It has accordingly refused any cooperation with the process, withholding, or attempting to withhold, all testimony and related documents it can block.

So what does Hemingway mean when she wants Republicans to stop being polite and start getting real? She cites as a model the infamous Brooks Brothers riot from 2000. During that episode, Republican staffers disrupted the vote recount in Miami-Dade, a process that they feared would increase the vote count for Al Gore. (It later turned out that Miami-Dade had few uncounted Gore votes.) Hemingway justifies the riot as a necessary response to a one-sided recount. Of course, if she were correct that the county was ignoring countable Republican ballots, there would have been legal remedies available. Instead, Republican staffers used mob tactics.

“The media attacks were written, not coincidentally, after the mini-protest was shown to have worked,” she argues, as if only media bias could explain why journalists covered an event shortly after it occurred. “Within hours, the Democrat-led board admitted that they couldn’t comply with state law by the Sunday deadline and stopped their attempted vote harvesting scheme.”

Whatever the ethics of her position, Hemingway is correct to cite this episode as a milestone in the ideological evolution that has brought the party toward Trumpism. Its increasingly right-wing character has been mixed with a conviction that Democratic elections are inherently fraudulent, and that extra-legal processes can be justified as countermeasures. Whether wise or not, the Constitution grants Congress indisputable authority to hold impeachment proceedings. Yet Trump has had little trouble bringing along with him the great mass of voters and elected officials to the position that it is illegitimate as process, a literal coup.

“If this coup succeeds — whether through impeachment proceedings, or through an election that (if the last three years are any indication) the other side is clearly willing to steal by hook or by crook — the nation will cease to be a constitutional, democratic republic,” she warns. Notice that Hemingway is casually endorsing the widespread Republican assumption that Democrats must steal elections in order to win. Since the perfidy of the president’s enemies is taken for granted, and the evidentiary standards for charges against them nonexistent, any Trump defeat is a coup. Trump himself has been stoking that lie since before the 2016 election. If he is impeached, and even if he simply loses reelection, Trump will call it a coup, and a large number of his followers will treat it as such.

If Trump Is Impeached or Defeated, He’ll Call It a ‘Coup’