Visitors to Donald Trump’s campaign website are immediately implicated in his current legal travails.

“They’re not after me,” text in the primary image on the site reads. “They’re after you … I’m just standing in their way!”

As though attribution were needed, the quote is sourced to Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States.

This idea that Trump faces a legal threat as a proxy for his base of support was offered explicitly during Trump’s speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition over the weekend.

“Every time the radical-left Democrats, Marxist, communists and fascists indict me, I consider it a great badge of courage,” Trump said. “I’m being indicted for you, and I believe the you is more than 200 million people that love our country.”

That phrasing is dripping with hyperbole. Trump’s federal indictment came at the hands of an experienced federal prosecutor who is in no realistic way a “radical-left Democrat,” much less any of the other (contradictory) categories offered. Trump’s implication that his base of support numbers 200 million is heavily inflated.

Those exaggerations have a purpose. Two-hundred-million Americans are more than three-quarters of the adult population, but they’re also obviously more than half of the country, bolstering Trump’s long-standing claim that he is leading a “silent majority” (despite earning less than a majority of the vote in the 2016 presidential primaries, 2016 election and 2020 election). His framing of his opponents as politically opposed to that base — using vaguely defined pejoratives very familiar to supporters who remember the Cold War — is also familiar in a terrain littered with “Republicans in name only.”

Everyone agrees with him and anyone who doesn’t is a traitor. Simple enough.

Even in that context, though, making his indictment on charges of retaining classified material universal would seem to be a stretch. The investigation into Russian interference was abstract enough that suggesting that it was rooted in hostility was credible. But the FBI found those documents at his house! Where’s the wiggle room?

The immediate answer is that right-wing media spends much less time talking about Trump’s various scandals than do traditional news outlets. In the past month, Fox News has mentioned Trump’s indictment less than half as often as CNN, for example.

When the subject is broached on Fox, it’s often with Trump’s framing or his actual words. He asserts — as he did at Faith and Freedom — that the application of the law by the special counsel is incorrect and that his own interpretation is accurate. In any other context, it’s ridiculous: The guy accused of the crime argues that the prosecutors don’t understand the law. Here, though, Trump’s done such a good job of indoctrinating his supporters against law enforcement that it’s accepted at face value.

And, of course, he has consistently suggested that the non-sycophantic media is hopelessly biased against him. One of the most revelatory parts of his speech at Faith and Freedom was centered on this point.

“As you know, the fake news doesn’t report on all of the things that you’re reading about and hearing about,” he said. “You’re hearing about things that you can’t believe, bigger than Watergate, bigger than anything you’ve ever seen. And if you look at the New York Times or if you look at The Washington Post or the mainstream media of any kind — ABC, NBC, CBS — not a word of it. Not a word. Not even a little bit.”

This is presumably a reference to the array of allegations Republicans have made against President Biden and his son Hunter. They have been covered, but with appropriate skepticism given the thinness of the claims. But what Trump’s supporters have read about and heard about is hyperventilation, insistences that “the Biden family” is demonstrably corrupt and implicated in significant crimes, charges that are never challenged within the right-wing media.

This is exactly how Trump gained political power in the first place. There was right-wing chatter about immigration and President Barack Obama and the scheming left with which mainstream Republicans didn’t engage. Trump was marinated in that rhetoric and echoed it from the moment he announced his candidacy in 2015. His opponents rejected him as a gadfly — but the base loved it. Here, at last, was someone willing to tell the truth, which is to say someone willing to repeat the baseless nonsense they themselves were reading about and hearing about.

Trump’s deployment of that rhetoric in 2015 quickly endeared sites such as Breitbart to him. His ability to command the Republican base brought everyone else along soon after. He had taken control of the establishment by mounting an insurrection from the outside — by making the same often false claims that right-wing activists and actors had been amplifying. He was their warrior.

Over the course of his presidency, he worked hard to cement that power, casting all opponents as biased and dishonest. His immediate framing of the Russia investigation as a hoax — a framing that predated all of the most dire revelations about what Russia did and how his team embraced it — was effective. Trump supporters still often saw him as their sword in a fight against the elites.

“First they slandered Americans of faith as haters and bigots. Then they corrupted the media. They installed radical-left judges to subvert our Constitution. They used the IRS to target conservatives. They spied on our campaign and specifically they spied on my campaign. And we caught them,” Trump said at Faith and Freedom — claims that again are untrue. But the use of “they” is important: It’s unspecified because it doesn’t need to be otherwise. He just means “the elite left” in some unarticulated formulation. He means, really, “all of my opponents” — a duplicitous, vaguely bounded group opposed to Christian Americans and conservatives.

“They tried to take down a presidency with hoaxes and witch hunts. They’re still trying,” he added later. “We wouldn’t let them, and now Joe Biden has weaponized law enforcement to interfere in our elections. The greatest abuse of power that I’ve seen and that most of you have seen in the history of our country.” This group “want[s] to interfere with the fair and free election to a point where Joe Biden is willing to arrest his opponent who is leading him in the polls by a very, very large number.”

Again: not true. Biden leads in the polls. But Trump isn’t simply claiming that the indictment is an attempt to lash out at him, he’s insisting that it’s because they fear him politically. This is more useful, given that he’s been running for the 2024 Republican nomination for seven months already.

Combine those things — misinformation in the right-wing media, eight years of identifying as the base’s voice, claims that the elites are worried about his imminent reelection — and the idea that he is being indicted as a way to disempower average conservative Republicans makes much more sense. In this case, the forum didn’t hurt; one can imagine that a conservative Christian audience is more receptive to the idea that a government might seek to ruthlessly punish the iconoclast fighting for a community’s salvation. (Sure enough, Trump suggested that he was being charged under a law that could lead to capital punishment.)

The day before Trump’s speech, the Faith and Freedom Coalition event featured Glenn Jacobs as a speaker. Jacobs is the mayor of Knox County in East Tennessee, and is better known to Americans as the former WWE wrestler Kane.

“It’s tempting to throw up our hands in despair, to lose hope,” Jacobs said at one point in his comments. “I mean, good Lord, they just indicted a president. What chance do the rest of us stand?”

And that is exactly what Trump wants people to think.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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