Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt are still all-in for Donald Trump. And the rule of law? | Opinion

Donald Trump is once again rallying his supporters to shield him from the consequences of his own actions. It is no surprise — but still notable — that Missouri’s Republican senators have shamefully answered the call.

Trump on Saturday announced that he expects to be arrested this Tuesday on charges he illegally used campaign funds to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about their sexual encounter in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. He wasn’t entirely correct about that: A New York grand jury investigating the case is still interviewing witnesses, so a final decision is probably still days or weeks away. But legal experts and media reports suggest that an indictment is indeed forthcoming.

“PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” the former president wrote (the all caps his) on his Truth Social network. As The New York Times noted, Trump’s post echoed his efforts to summon supporters to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, which led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Sens. Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt responded immediately to Trump’s latest summons, of course.

“The reported upcoming arrest of President Trump by hyper partisan Soros prosecutor Alvin Bragg is some Third World Banana Republic lunacy and a very, very dangerous road to go down,” Schmitt wrote on Twitter, later adding: “Indictments, investigations and incarceration to settle political scores shows a deep contempt for the rule of law.”

“The Democrats used the FBI against parents, they used the FBI against Catholics, they used Big Tech against vaccine critics & anyone who questioned them,” Hawley added. “Now they want to arrest Trump, their leading political opponent. They are the banana republic party.”

Remember: Both these men served as Missouri’s attorney general — a position in which they were expected to apply the law without fear or favor.

We don’t know whether fear or favor motivate Hawley and Schmitt in Trump’s case. But the rush to condemn New York prosecutors suggests Missouri’s senators are more interested in maintaining impunity for Trump than in actually preserving or restoring the integrity of the United States’ legal institutions.

After all, we don’t recall Schmitt or Hawley piping up in 2016 when Trump campaigned for president while joyously receiving supporters’ chants of “Lock her up!” whenever Hillary Clinton’s name came up. Nor do we remember their condemnations in 2018 when it was reported that Trump as president tried to order investigations of Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey for the apparent crime of openly criticizing him. Now that was real “banana republic” stuff.

We agree: Investigations to settle political scores do show a deep contempt for the rule of law.

But we don’t agree that is what is happening in New York. Instead, the evidence suggests that Trump has spent his entire life seeing how much he could get away with — alleged attacks on women, defrauding the students of Trump University, refusing to pay contractors money he owed — and is angry that justice might finally be catching up with him.

To be clear, the New York case is not the most urgent or important matter among the several criminal investigations currently dogging Trump. We’d rather see the former president face accountability for his recorded attempt to overturn Georgia’s 2020 vote for President Joe Biden, or for inspiring the violent insurrection at the Capitol. Reporting suggests charges may be forthcoming in those more serious cases, too.

Hawley and Schmitt may well support Trump in those matters, as well. To what end? Perhaps they see clinging to a popular (though fading) Republican as the necessary price of political relevance. We wonder how that will work out. Recent revelations that Fox News figures lied to viewers about the 2020 election results — because that’s what their audience wanted to hear — are producing a backlash: A new poll shows nearly two-thirds of Americans — including 41% of Republicans — believe Fox should face consequences for spreading untruths.

The lesson? Staking one’s credibility on Trump’s lies and transgressions might have a short-term payoff, but is a real loser in the long run.

Similarly, if the rule of law is to mean anything, it should be that former presidents don’t get to walk away from alleged crimes just because they are extremely popular with their party’s loudest voices. Donald Trump clearly does not believe that ideal. By enabling the former president, Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt show they don’t, either.