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Playing by the rules? What a concept

Bending rules has become a blueprint for Trump and his supporters

Former President Donald Trump is seen here speaking to supporters from the Ellipse at the White House on Jan. 6, 2021.
Former President Donald Trump is seen here speaking to supporters from the Ellipse at the White House on Jan. 6, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” All right, maybe people who said this or taught the saying to their kids as a sign of noble character never truly meant it. But they at least pretended to.

Are those times long gone? Well, a lot of folks who know better have been charged with trying to rig, not a game, but democracy. And, in some cases, their defiance of norms and laws is being rewarded and celebrated.

That certainly seems to have happened in Arizona.

Being indicted for involvement in a “fake electors” scheme to keep Donald Trump in the White House after he lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden did not hurt state Sen. Jake Hoffman at the Arizona GOP Convention over the weekend. Indeed, he was chosen as a Republican National Committee member.

“I’m humbled and honored to have been elected as the next RNC National Committeeman for Arizona!” Hoffman wrote on social media. “For the next 4 years I will work tirelessly to ensure that the RNC makes Arizona its #1 priority not only in 2024, but every year.”

When you consider what he is charged with doing in the 2020 election, Hoffman’s pledge, along with the fact that the term “fake electors” doesn’t need an explanation, presents a scary vision of the future. Being unhappy with the results of an election is understandable; subverting the will of your state’s voters to change the final score is not.

Hoffman will have his day in court, but he doesn’t seem one bit admonished by the charge as he carries that partisan energy into November. He was in good — or bad — company with others indicted not only in Arizona but also in Georgia for similar shenanigans, including former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Another defendant in the Arizona case, lawyer Christina Bobb, has found strong support in her party in her role as senior counsel to the Republican National Committee’s election integrity team.

That is not a joke.

Trump, who reportedly wants his New York attorneys to fight harder for him in his tabloid-ready hush money and falsifying business records case, wholeheartedly supports Bobb, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. I believe she must have forgotten everything about the Constitution and duty to country she learned there.

The title of her book — “Stealing Your Vote: The Inside Story of the 2020 Election and What It Means for 2024” — says it all.

For the Trump team and those enmeshed in the Arizona indictments, “weaponization” of the Justice Department has become a catchall excuse for any actions that stand in the way of the prize.

Similar charges around the country prove this propensity for bending the rules has become a blueprint.

What can we look forward to in November? The Department of Justice is doing all it can, considering First Amendment protections, to protect election workers from threats and disruptions. Though Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss eventually received some justice for their unfair persecution, I doubt anyone would want to suffer through the same ordeal, not for all the money in the world.

Trump has certainly shown contempt for the rules, as he has been held in literal contempt by Judge Juan Merchan for violating a gag order in his New York case as he taunts and maligns witnesses on social media.

He spends valuable time away from the courtroom to insist that he won an election he lost, to promise retribution against enemies, and to turn the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of a presidential election into patriots and hostages.

No wonder he has the devotion of not only his base but also his former attorney general, William Barr, who once denounced his boss’s denial of reality and constitutional order.

If Trump wins, they are all home free. And Trump will say he’s won, even if he loses.

The United States Supreme Court was once the ultimate arbiter of America’s rules. It was the one institution most Americans respected, even if that respect occasionally was offered grudgingly. In recent years, especially after justices who promised at confirmation to honor precedent overturned Roe v. Wade, approval of the court has fallen to record lows, hovering around 40 percent, according to Gallup.

I doubt those numbers will improve after the same court that rushed the ruling that ensured Trump’s place on the ballot in Colorado and everywhere else slow-walked his case on absolute immunity, almost guaranteeing he won’t face a federal trial before Election Day.

Justice Clarence Thomas, meanwhile, did not even bother to answer questions about his refusal to recuse himself from the case, despite the fact that his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, attended Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally and exchanged texts with Mark Meadows that roped God and “a conversation with my best friend” into her efforts to keep Trump in office.

I know a husband should not be punished for the actions of a wife. But rules are often about the appearance of impropriety, and this court blew past that guardrail miles ago.

It was actually more sad than infuriating to hear the justices discussing lofty hypotheticals when the reality of what Jan. 6 meant for America was right in front of their faces.

When Trump was running the first time, many thought his chances were done when he maligned the military service of Sen. John McCain, imprisoned for years in Vietnam. “I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said in 2015.

His former chief of staff, John Kelly, a veteran whose son was killed in action, confirmed reports that Trump considered those who served and sacrificed “suckers” and “losers.”

Condemnation followed the 2015 remark about a man considered a war hero, notably from Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, McCain’s close friend and fellow veteran, who called the remark “disqualifying” for someone who would be commander-in-chief.

Now, Trump is vying for another term, and he muses in a Time magazine interview that he could use that military to deport undocumented immigrants, and won’t rule out the possibility of political violence if the election doesn’t pass his “fairness” threshold.

What does Sen. Graham have to say? He recently told CNN, “If [Trump is] convicted in any of these trials, would it change my view? No.”

Maybe it’s time to retire notions of fair play. Don’t want to be a “sucker.”

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. She is host of the CQ Roll Call “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis” podcast. Follow her on X @mcurtisnc3.

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