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Top GOPer Accidentally Wrecks Trump’s Biggest Lie About Jack Smith

As Trump presses Mike Johnson to defund the special counsel, a leading House Republican dissents. Is Trump’s criminality becoming a wedge issue against the GOP?

Former President Donald Trump is seen delivering vehement remarks into a microphone at a meeting with congressional Republicans.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on June 13

Don’t look now, but Donald Trump’s criminality is slowly morphing into a serious wedge issue against the Republican Party—and Democrats, fortunately, are beginning to act like it.

Politico’s Playbook reported Thursday that Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson privately discussed ways the House can sabotage special counsel Jack Smith’s ongoing prosecutions of Trump, including attempting to defund his office. That grabbed all the attention, but let’s not overlook another key factoid buried in the report: A senior Republican offered a striking dissent from the idea of defunding Smith—in a way that will leave a mark.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea unless you can show that [the prosecutors] acted in bad faith or fraud or something like that,” Representative Mike Simpson, a senior appropriator, told Playbook, speaking about the defund-Smith push. He denounced the idea as “stupid,” adding of prosecutors: “They’re just doing their job—even though I disagree with what they did.”

Wait, what? Trump’s prosecutorial tormentors are not acting in bad faith or being fraudulent? Do tell!

Simpson apparently thought he was just rebuffing a tough question, but he also badly undermined a core argument of Trump and his propagandists: that the prosecutions of Trump are wholly illegitimate, exposing the “deep state” as irredeemably corrupt to its very core. Now comes along a top Republican who disagrees with the prosecutions of Trump on their interpretation of the law but appears to allow that the special counsel’s office is not abusing its institutional role in a way that merits maximal GOP tactics in response, such as defunding it.

Democrats recognize the importance of this moment. “Mike Simpson just destroyed MAGA-world’s argument that Trump’s prosecution on federal charges is fraudulent or in bad faith,” Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland emailed me. “Like the New York prosecution, it is a bona fide and good-faith criminal prosecution, and the attempt to defund it, like the effort to delegitimize it, is fundamentally stupid.”

“Other Republicans should follow Simpson and stop demonizing the justice system and the rule of law,” Raskin continued, effectively demonstrating how Trump’s criming can be used as a wedge going forward.

Importantly, this also comes as the Democratic National Committee is going up with new billboards outside of a big conservative gathering that Trump is attending in Michigan this weekend. The People’s Convention, a kind of off-brand RNC hosted by Turning Point Action, will feature Trump and other reprobates such as Steve Bannon (who is heading to prison after defying a January 6 committee subpoena) and Roger Stone (whose sentence was commuted by Trump).

Per a DNC source, the billboards will feature pictures of Trump, Bannon, and Stone, and read:


But It’s Just a Scam

They Don’t Care About You

They’re Just Out for Themselves

Democrats increasingly grasp that Trump’s criminal conviction in his Manhattan hush-money trial—and his ongoing federal prosecutions for stealing state secrets and trying to overthrow democracy—put Republicans in a hideously difficult position. Trump is demanding that Republicans show absolute allegiance to him over the rule of law, and urging them to do everything in their power to place him above it.

This predicament is starkly illustrated by Trump’s latest moves. As the Politico report notes, Trump urged Johnson to act, and the House speaker could only meekly agree that this would be merited. GOP leaders are whipping votes for a measure to allow presidents to move charges against them from state to federal courts, and Johnson is conferring with other top Republicans about ways to defund Smith’s office.

What’s telling is that vulnerable House Republicans are balking—privately. As Politico reports, due in part to “skittish swing-district members,” the speaker is “already finding it difficult to deliver for Trump.”

Indeed, in another sign that Trump’s criminality is becoming a wedge, some Republicans representing swing districts are decidedly uninterested in commenting on Trump’s felony convictions.

True, some vulnerable Republicans rushed to embrace Trump after the verdict. But that strongly suggests they’ve calculated that alienating MAGA voters is such a danger that they will accept the risk of irking moderates and independents. What’s more, it’s clear that this dynamic will only get worse for them: As Trump’s pressure on Johnson indicates, he expects the GOP to produce results. That could mean tough votes in the future, say, on measures to move state prosecutions or to somehow target Smith’s prosecutions.

Republicans are feigning swagger about the politics of the convictions favoring them. But this is likely just spin that they themselves don’t even believe. In fact, Trump’s big visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday, where he reportedly attacked the Justice Department as “dirty bastards,” shows that he is trying to prevail on Republicans to act as if the politics of his criminality favor them, to cow Republicans who might be tempted to defect. The visit was supposed to show the world that the party is united behind him in spite of his criminality—or perhaps because of it.

Either way, majorities of voters agree with Trump’s convictions and believe he committed serious federal crimes. So those will be bad votes for those marginal GOP incumbents, and Trump will keep demanding more from them.

Most Democrats now appear to see things this way after an early bout of skittishness. In addition to the DNC billboards, the Biden campaign just launched new ads in the swing states slamming Trump over his insurrection (for which he’s currently being prosecuted). The spots feature brutal footage of the violence that Trump incited, and they hit Trump for pledging to pardon the rioters, dramatizing that a second Trump term would be a thoroughly lawless one. Democrats seem to recognize an opening to hit Republicans for placing Trump’s criminal defense needs before their duty to the country and their sense of obligation to their own constituents.

In coming out against defunding Smith, Representative Mike Simpson blurted out the position that many vulnerable Republicans would surely like to adopt, if only in service of political self-preservation. The problem is that Donald Trump will not let them.