The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The GOP surrenders any claim to being the ‘law and order’ party

Supporters of former president Donald Trump outside Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 9. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg News)

For decades, the GOP purported to be the party that was “tough on crime.” Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republican politicians said, the GOP would protect the public from villainous lawbreakers, safeguard security, and give no quarter to miscreants and menaces. It was the party that demonstrably Funded the Police.

No longer.

Today, on matters of critical crimefighting, they’re on the side of the scofflaws. That’s true whether such scofflaws happen to be their political idols or more run-of-the-mill white-collar crooks.

See: those Republicans outraged that the nation’s top cops, the FBI, would execute a lawful warrant to search former president Donald Trump’s Florida home.

GOP reacts to Trump search with threats and comparisons to ‘Gestapo’

Which is a bit strange. For decades — since well before he ran for office — Trump has demonstrated flagrant disdain for the law, whether that law involved the tax code or the Federal Records Act or civil rights protections. It seems quite reasonable then that, occasionally, some contingent of law enforcement might look into whether any hinted-at lawbreaking was actually going on. As happened on Monday, after officials first demonstrated to a judge probable cause of a violation of federal law.

To some Republicans, though, a lawfully executed search of a Trump property apparently merits shaming and defunding the FBI. To them, it is evidence that the Biden administration has “fully weaponized DOJ & FBI to target their political enemies.”

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Apparently, these Republicans have forgotten that FBI Director Christopher A. Wray was appointed to his job by Trump himself. Not a political enemy.

Many Republican lawmakers have also somehow forgotten that they opposed impeaching Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection because they said any Trump-related criminal allegation was a matter for the justice system to decide. The most appropriate way to maintain law and order, some argued, was to punt to the courts: “Let history, and if necessary the courts, judge the events of the past,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in February 2021 when he voted to acquit.

Dana Milbank: GOP hysteria over the Mar-a-Lago search is an incitement to violence

Yet a year later, Rubio has decided that when a court deems a search warrant for Trump’s property appropriate, that means we’re becoming a “banana republic.”

You might be tempted to write all this off as cultish devotion to one above-the-law man, rather than a wholesale reconfiguring of party principles. You’d be wrong.

Many Republicans have fought to shield other deep-pocketed, white-collar criminals from the rule of law. They have done this by deliberately defunding the tax police.

Hugh Hewitt

counterpointIt’s too soon to judge Trump on missing documents and fake slates

For years, lawmakers have gutted the Internal Revenue Service. This resulted in abysmal customer service as well as embarrassingly archaic, disco-era IT systems.

Catherine Rampell: Why does the IRS need $80 billion? Just look at its cafeteria.

It also happened to be a gift to anyone stiffing Uncle Sam.

Audit rates have plummeted, particularly for mega-corporations and the ultra-wealthy. IRS-referred federal prosecutions reached their lowest level on record in fiscal 2020 and are on track to be barely higher this year. This is not, presumably, because Americans have suddenly become more law-abiding. The tax police are just outgunned and outmanned.

Dodging your taxes is not a victimless crime, whatever Trump (“I have brilliantly used those laws”) and his ilk might suggest; the rest of us ultimately pay more to fill the shortfall.

Democratic lawmakers have proposed remedying the problem by appropriating $80 billion to the IRS, which would fund system upgrades, customer service improvements and additional enforcement capacity. Republican politicians have responded with full-blown fear-mongering, declaring that the IRS intends to hire an army of “87,000 agents” to harass “middle-class Americans.”

This fundamentally misrepresents the proposal in several ways.

First, that 87,000 tally — referring to a Treasury estimate for hiring through 2031 — doesn’t subtract out the number of current workers who are expected to retire in that time period, which is more than half of the existing IRS workforce.

Catherine Rampell: The people fighting to starve the IRS think the law doesn't apply to them

Additionally, the 87,000 number refers to how many employees of all kinds the IRS expects to hire in the next decade. It includes people to answer the phones, IT professionals and various other non-enforcement-related jobs. The subset of hires to work on audits would focus on big corporations and the ultra-wealthy — which are where the IRS has most cut back its enforcement efforts over the past decade, and which tend to be higher-value targets besides.

None of this seems to matter to those Republicans connecting the search of Mar-a-Lago with efforts to beef up the IRS. “If the FBI can raid the home of a former US President,” tweeted Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), “imagine what 87,000 more IRS agents will do to you.”

Even if Banks muddled the details, he’s not entirely wrong: Model your behavior, tax-related or otherwise, on Trump, and it’s possible that some official, somewhere, might someday look into it. But not to worry: Your friends in the GOP will shield you from the consequences, at the expense of the rest of us.

RIP, “law and order” GOP.

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