‘Sounds Like Politics’: PBS Mourns GOP Attacking Trump Verdict

PBS NewsHour’s weekly recap with New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart had a lot to discuss on Friday as they discussed former President Donald Trump being found guilty in New York. The common thread throughout, however, was that in “the before times” Republicans and conservatives would have lined up to simply accept what happened and that now institutions are under assault because they will not.

Host Geoff Bennett turned to Brooks and repeated what Capehart had mentioned in his initial reaction, “Somber and solemn. How does it strike you?”

Brooks is supposed to be the conservative half of the duo and began by giving his credentials, “Yeah, I will go back to Jonathan’s phrase, ‘the before times.’ In the before times, I was working at National Review, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, The Weekly Standard, a lot of conservative places, and there were pillars of conservatism.”

He proceeded to give his take on why conservatives should accept the verdict, “The first is moral character, that character’s destiny, and if there’s — if private virtue falls apart, the public order collapses. And we shouldn’t forget the fact this case was about a president, a former president, paying hush money to a porn star. I mean, in what world do we enter that?”

That is a moral and a political argument, not a legal one, but Brooks rolled on, “The second is institutions and the power of institutions to safeguard society and hold off barbarism.”

After oozing about the jury looking “at the judge with a rapt reverence” as he read the “very dry and technocratic language” of the law, Brooks lamented, “If he wins in the fall, the attack on the institutions won’t only be to the justice system. It’ll be to the Defense Department. It’ll be to the attorney general’s office. It’ll be a comprehensive assault on American institutions. And that’s sort of what’s at stake” before offering up some hope, “Can those institutions hold? And, in my view, yesterday, they did.”

Later, Brooks did manage to unintentionally admit that, despite whatever his past employers’ politics are, he is still PBS’s idea of a conservative, “And so they are way more fired up than I anticipated. And these are people from Susan Collins, who’s a moderate Republican from Maine, over to the right.”

At the end of the segment, Bennett played a clip of Speaker Mike Johnson denouncing the case and turned to Capehart for his reaction, “And it’s not just him. Senate Majority Leader — Senate Minority Leader, rather, Mitch McConnell, who has had a frosty relationship with Donald Trump, says, in his view, this case never should have been brought in the first place. How do you view the ways in which Republicans are circling the wagon here, even when it comes to this felony conviction.”

Capehart thought Johnson should simply shut up, “I find it reprehensible, and when it comes to Speaker Johnson, I just find what he says basically as dangerous as what Donald Trump said today during that press conference at Trump Tower. Speaker Johnson is the second in line to the presidency. He should be, if not silent on this, as responsible and measured, while disagreeing, as the president was today, President Biden was today, in talking about the case.”

He added, “If anything gives me pause, it is the vociferous reaction of Republicans, particularly of Republicans who in the before times would be saying the exact opposite of what they’re saying now.”

Brooks agreed, “Yeah, I mean, I — I think it’s crazy. Listen, I had some doubts about an elected Democrat prosecutor going after Donald Trump in New York. Of course, anybody has doubts. But you have got to take the jury system seriously.”

As for Johnson, “The jury is the core of our legal system. And for Johnson to sort of wave the jury aside and say, I know better than the people who actually sat in the room and listened to the charges, that’s — that sounds like politics to me.”

The jury is composed of laypeople who listen to the evidence presented to them and follow the instructions they are given. It isn’t their job to offer opinions on the appropriateness of those instructions or whether the D.A. violated the Constitution

Here is a transcript for the July 31 show:

PBS NewsHour

5/31/2024

7:42 PM ET

GEOFF BENNETT: Somber and solemn. How does it strike you?

DAVID BROOKS Yeah, I will go back to Jonathan’s phrase, “the before times.” In the before times, I was working at National Review, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, The Weekly Standard, a lot of conservative places, and there were pillars of conservatism.

The first is moral character, that character’s destiny, and if there’s — if private virtue falls apart, the public order collapses. And we shouldn’t forget the fact this case was about a president, a former president, paying hush money to a porn star. I mean, in what world do we enter that?

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Right.

BROOKS: The second is institutions and the power of institutions to safeguard society and hold off barbarism. And there was a moment that some of the people who were in the courtroom described when the jury asked the judge to read back some of the technical fineries of the indictment and of how they should think about the law. And, apparently it was very dry and technocratic language.

And yet the members of the jury looked at the judge with a rapt reverence. And I’ve always found in juries that juries take their responsibilities very seriously. And so these are character institutions. And Donald Trump is, if nothing else, a transgressor.

And if he wins in the fall, the attack on the institutions won’t only be to the justice system. It’ll be to the Defense Department. It’ll be to the attorney general’s office. It’ll be a comprehensive assault on American institutions. And that’s sort of what’s at stake. Can those institutions hold? And, in my view, yesterday, they did.

BENNETT: Well, David, picking up on that point, what does all of this reveal about Donald Trump, the space he occupies in American life, and the degree to which he has really shifted the center of our politics?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he tells a story. The story is, they’re out to get you and the system is fundamentally broken. And that’s a story a lot of people agree with, and a lot of people think was vindicated yesterday. I was very struck by my friends in the Republican Party, some of them Trump supporters, some more Nikki Haley types, I was struck by how vociferous their reaction was.

A lot of them saw this as the equivalent of January 6, that this was the day the justice system was perverted to launch a political attack and the fundamental institutions of society are under threat. And so they are way more fired up than I anticipated. And these are people from Susan Collins, who’s a moderate Republican from Maine, over to the right.

BENNETT:  That was Johnson on Fox News this morning, in fact. And it’s not just him. Senate Majority Leader — Senate Minority Leader, rather, Mitch McConnell, who has had a frosty relationship with Donald Trump, says, in his view, this case never should have been brought in the first place.

How do you view the ways in which Republicans are circling the wagon here, even when it comes to this felony conviction.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: I just — I find it reprehensible, and when it comes to Speaker Johnson, I just find what he says basically as dangerous as what Donald Trump said today during that press conference at Trump Tower. Speaker Johnson is the second in line to the presidency. He should be, if not silent on this, as responsible and measured, while disagreeing, as the president was today, President Biden was today, in talking about the case.

If anything gives me pause, it is the vociferous reaction of Republicans, particularly of Republicans who in the before times would be saying the exact opposite of what they’re saying now.

BENNETT: David, final word?

BROOKS: Yeah, I mean, I — I think it’s crazy. Listen, I had some doubts about an elected Democrat prosecutor going after Donald Trump in New York. Of course, anybody has doubts. But you have got to take the jury system seriously. And whether you like what Alvin Bragg did or not, he was — Trump was convicted on 34 counts by a jury.

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