The consistent pattern of projection that conservatives have engaged in to excuse Donald Trump’s behavior began during the presidential campaign, when anti-Trump conservatives suggested Trump was running a GOP-sabotage campaign at Bill Clinton’s behest, and it culminated this week when Trump loyalists insinuated that Donald Trump Jr., who agreed in principle to work with the Russian government to help his father beat Hillary Clinton, is the victim of a setup.
What I describe here as projection is by no means a phenomenon limited to the relationship between the right and Trump. It’s one of the most powerful forces of motivation and self-justification in conservative politics. Republican politicians tolerate dirty tricksters like Roger Stone, so they project the existence of dirty tricks of similar depravity onto the Democratic Party. Many conservatives use radical tactics, so they posit a massive Saul Alinsky footprint in liberal politics. It became an article of faith on the right that mainstream media journalists and Democratic Party operatives are interchangeable, so they made Fox News—“conservative” news—in that image.
The “Jr. got set up!” theory thus tells us more about Hannity’s ethics than it does about any plausible sequence of real-world events. After all, even if Trump’s political enemies did try to forge a Russia-Trump nexus, there’s still the small matter of the fact that his son (and most likely his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner) took the bait.
But it also points to a growing sense of desperation in Trumpland. Because the leftist conspiracy Hannity et al posit goes something like this:
1. Engage Trump’s son, top campaign staff in an international criminal conspiracy.
2. Say nothing.
3. Lose election as planned.
4. Let Trump take oath of office.
It’s of a piece with the idea that Hillary Clinton recruited millions of illegal voters but wasted their ballots in blue states. Only stupider.