The Washington Post

‘Hail, Caesar’ has a nice ring to it, says the MAGA crowd

- DANA MILBANK

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears: They have come to resurrect Caesar. MAGA Republican leaders take umbrage at being accused of “semi-fascism,” which is understand­able: Twentieth-century dictators such as Mussolini and the German guy with the mustache gave fascism a bad name. But the MAGA crowd isn’t disavowing totalitari­anism, per se. It’s just their taste in authoritar­ian figures skews toward the classics. They’re old-school — 1st century B.C. old. “Hail, Caesar” goes down so much easier than “Heil Hitler.”

J.D. Vance, the Republican Senate nominee in Ohio, is one resident of this newly platted Caesarian section, as a recent profile in the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed. It referred to a year-old interview Vance gave on a far-right podcast in which he spoke approvingl­y of Curtis Yarvin, a selfprocla­imed monarchist who argues for an American Julius Caesar to take power.

“We are in a late republican period,” Vance said, referencin­g the era preceding Caesar’s dictatorsh­ip. “If we’re going to push back against it, we’re going to have to get pretty wild, and pretty far out there, and go in directions that a lot of conservati­ves right now are uncomforta­ble with.”

The podcast’s host, Jack Murphy, endorsed this sentiment, discussing possible “extraconst­itutional” remedies to be taken “if we want to re-found the country.” (He told Vance he thought voting an “ineffectua­l” way to “rip out this leadership class.”)

Vance, who said he had been “radicalize­d” by the actions of “malevolent and evil” political opponents, described what “wild” actions he had in mind at another point in the podcast. He wants to “seize the institutio­ns of the left” and purge political opponents with “de-nazificati­on, de-Ba’athificati­on.”

Vance suggested that former president Donald Trump, once elected in 2024, should fire all civil servants and replace them with “our people,” defy court orders blocking such an illegal action, and then “do what Viktor Orban has done,” referring to the Hungarian dictator’s bans on certain topics from school curriculum­s. Vance justified such “outside-the-box” authoritar­ian actions by reasoning that the United States is “far gone” and not “a real constituti­onal republic” anymore.

Hail, Caesar!

Vance is far from the only emperor-curious MAGA leader. Former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro called Mike Pence a “traitor to the American Caesar of Trump” because the former vice president refused to help overturn the 2020 election. Another former Trump adviser, Michael Anton, hosted a Claremont Institute podcast with Yarvin about the desirabili­ty of an “American Caesar.”

Meanwhile, various tactics that would qualify as “extraconst­itutional” have been proliferat­ing on the MAGA right.

This week, Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee confirmed during the lame-duck Republican Congress after the 2020 election, turned the bedrock American principle of equal justice on its head. Cannon, granting Trump’s request for a “special master” to shield the government documents hoarded at his residence, said Trump’s need for protection from “stigma” was “in a league of its own” because of his “former position as president.” A judge granting extraordin­ary legal powers to the man who appointed her to spare him “reputation­al harm”? Hail, Caesar!

Last week, the House Jan. 6 committee wrote to Trump ally Newt Gingrich, outlining how the former House speaker encouraged Trump TV ads promoting false election-fraud claims, and how he suggested a “call-to-action” to intimidate election officials. “The goal is to arouse the country’s anger,” Gingrich wrote to Trump advisers, at a time when election officials desperatel­y feared violence. Hail, Caesar!

Some MAGA Republican­s have a novel solution to resolve pesky constituti­onal restraints: rewrite the Constituti­on. As Carl Hulse reports in the New York Times, Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-tex.) introduced legislatio­n seeking to compel Congress to call a constituti­onal convention — the first since the framers wrote it — to overhaul the United States’ founding document. The effort likely isn’t going anywhere, but it shows the contempt MAGA Republican­s have for the constituti­onal order. Hail, Caesar!

Others in the MAGA movement simply reinterpre­t the Constituti­on to their own liking. County law-enforcemen­t officials self-styling as “constituti­onal sheriffs” have assigned themselves power to decide what the law is, according to their own politics. One such sheriff in Michigan sought warrants in July to seize vote-counting machines to try to validate Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, Reuters reported last week. Armed lawmen going rogue to undermine elections? Hail, Caesar!

A few weeks from now, the Supreme Court will open its new term, in which it will decide whether to use a North Carolina case to allow state legislatur­es to redraw election maps — and potentiall­y to overturn the outcome of elections and to disregard state constituti­ons — without any review by state courts. The high court blessing a radical legal theory that mocks the will of the voters? For MAGA Republican­s, all roads lead to Roman imperialis­m.

Hail, Caesar!

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