The GOP Is Beyond Repair
Plus: Why Trump was charged the way he was charged.
[On the August 4, 2023 episode of The Bulwark’s “Beg to Differ” podcast, host Mona Charen and guest George Conway discussed the specific charges against Donald Trump in the indictment relating to the 2020 election, and then turned to the question of the future of the Republican party.]
Mona Charen: The use of Section 241 . . . was not on anybody’s card—there were all these model prosecutions that had been floating out there—nobody had that one. And it seems so obvious now in retrospect . . . that, look, yeah, there is a law that covers when you try to subvert an election. There’s a law that says you cannot do something that will deny to citizens that their votes be fairly counted. And the courts have interpreted that section as things like stuffing ballot boxes or not fairly counting votes. So, it doesn’t seem a stretch—that seems to fit, at least to me. What do you think?
George Conway: Yeah, it does fit. I mean . . . the real reason why people say, ‘Oh my God, where did 241 come from?’ is there are many, many statutes in the United States Code that deal with people doing things that involve fraud or submitting false statements to the government to affect government action, and to take away people’s rights.
And you could charge this under any number of statutes. There’s some that are better than others. 241 is very good. I think the first charge, 371, which is conspiracy to defraud the United States, is actually perfect. And obstruction, the second two charges—two and three— involve Section 1512 of the criminal code, which is a conspiracy, and the substantive attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, namely the electoral vote count, all of it fits like a glove, it’s just that you put the glove on in different ways.
And for the principal charge, 371, I mean, if you submitted false documentation—say a false tax return in order to get a undeserved refund—you could be charged under 371. And the seminal case under that statute was a World War I case, where a bunch of people were . . . essentially protesting the Selective Service and the draft— they were pacifists, they were against the war. They handed out leaflets that misled people about their obligation to register for the draft. Their efforts to do that were held to violate section 371. They were interfering with the processes of government through the issuance of false statements, and that’s what Trump did. Trump was doing that in 100 different ways. One hundred different ways he did that. . . .
There are so many tools in the prosecutor’s toolbox to handle fraud. I think a lot of people, including myself, early on, got sort of distracted by the violence, and started thinking of the case in terms of incitement of an insurrection. And that is hard to prove. You’ve got First Amendment issues, you’ve got causation issues. That was almost an aftereffect of the fundamental crimes that he committed, which was an attempt to manipulate the electoral process in a way was not permitted by law, including by pressuring the vice president of the United States. All that was an attempt to defraud the United States. If you stole money from the treasury, even $100,000 or $10,000, you’d go to jail. Here, Trump was trying to steal through deceit, chicanery—whatever you want to call it, whatever the words are in the statute—he was trying to steal the entire government of the United States. So, if $10,000 will get you in jail, in the pokey, stealing the government, the entire government, should. This isn’t really that hard. . . .
Charen: So, George, do you still call yourself a Republican?
Conway: No . . . I registered as an unaffiliated voter in March of 2018, right around the time, in fact, Mona that I was inspired by your standing up to those folks at CPAC.
Charen: Oh, thank you.
Conway: That was one of the key moments in sort of like “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t play.”
Charen: Well, that makes me extremely gratified, I have to say. So, you’re talking about Trump’s attempt to manipulate the whole legal system, but what he has very successfully manipulated to a point of incomprehensibility is the Republican Party, which is almost in lockstep with him. Now admittedly, there are 25 percent according to the latest New York Times poll . . . who are hostile to him. There’s even a subset of people, about 7 percent total, who would vote for Biden over Trump in 2024. But here’s the typical thing you hear—this is Vivek Ramaswamy: “Donald Trump isn’t the cause of what happened on Jan 6. The real cause was systematic king pervasive censorship of citizens in the year leading up to it. If you tell people they can’t speak, that’s when they scream.”
Or you have Sean Davis of the Federalist saying that the Department of Justice is a “domestic terror organization.” So, it is hard to overstate how corrupt the Republican party is. . . . Your reflections on where the party is and how that will play into the next eighteen months?
Conway: I just think the party is gone. I mean, the party needs to basically be destroyed, frankly, it is destroying itself. And I don’t think there’s any way that it can be repaired and I think Trump is going to take them down. The only way this turns out hugely badly for the republic is if these No Labels people, some third-party candidates, somehow manages to prop Trump up
But it’s like crack, I mean, they’ve addicted themselves to these lies. They live off of these lies, the conservative media profits off of these lies, the political consultants profit off of these lies. The congressmen basically make a living selling these lies to the American people for contributions and funding—they’re lining their pockets or providing for their necessities of life through their PACs and whatever. There’s no way out, because they basically locked in a certain number of people to these lies. Ultimately, you’re going to end up with a core of the party that kind of eats itself up, and the rest of the party is just going to fall off and become independent to the extent it hasn’t already.