Out of the hundreds of reactions to President Trump’s unprecedented indictment on Thursday, one stood out.
The New York Young Republican Club issued a statement condemning the indictment, but not only that.
“President Trump embodies the American people — our psyche from id to super-ego — as does no other figure; his soul is totally bonded with our core values and emotions, and he is our total and indisputable champion,” the statement reads. “This tremendous connection threatens the established order.”
Other parts of it served more standard, albeit still jarring fare: accusing Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of being the avatar of “radical leftist interests, beholden to an elite, internationalist cabal,” saying that “every American feels today the solid grasp of the Fifth Column on his throat.”
I reached out to Gavin Wax, the president of the New York Young Republican Club, to discuss why the group chose to put that out to the world.
His response was interesting and typical of a certain kind of young Trump follower: media-savvy, self-consciously trollish, eschatological, and straddling the border between regarding Trump as a vessel to achieve other political aims and appreciating him for his, as Wax put it, “raw and realistic” character.
“Most Republican organizations in the country, all they do is message about Ronald Reagan, it’s the same old tripe, boring talking points,” Wax explained. “If you think about it, thousands of organizations have probably put out statements in the past 24-28 hours. Nobody really cares what they put out because its all the same boring, boilerplate stuff.”
“We have made a brand for ourselves putting out lofty kinds of statements like this,” he added. “With a certain prose, with a certain kind of element to it, and it grabs people’s attention. We’ve figured out that if you’re going to put out a press statement, you should try to get press. That’s why I’m on the phone with you.”
Wax was correct. The statement managed to get attention.
New York Times political reporter Jonathan Swan tweeted it out on Friday morning, highlighting the passage which described Trump’s soul as “totally bonded with our core values and emotions.”
It fits with the NYYRC’s style. The group recently held an event in Manhattan which featured a cocktail-making Roger Stone and a duo of popular, nihilistic podcasters. It, too, received a bunch of coverage.
NYYRC was the first to schedule a protest in lower Manhattan in support of Trump after news that his indictment was likely emerged earlier this month; one prominent member of the group, Vish Burra, has also played a key role in recent months as chief of operations to Rep. George Santos (R-NY), boxing his way through the chaos and controversy swirling around his boss.
Wax told TPM that his group was discussing an event in New York City on Tuesday with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who announced on Friday that she would be in Manhattan for Trump’s first court appearance.
In the interview with TPM, Wax defended the statement as an example not only of an effective way to get attention, but as a reflection of a decisive battle in which the country was engaged.
I asked Wax why the statement was written with religious language; isn’t the reference to the “tremendous connection” embodied by the link between Trump’s soul and “our core values an emotions” a spiritual argument, not a political one?
“We’re facing things that transcend just typical politics,” he said.
“I think there is a spiritual element to a lot of what’s going on. I think there’s a cultural element,” he added, before describing Trump’s indictment as “an attack on the heart and soul of the republic.”
The language might sound extreme to American ears, Wax conceded, but he said that it may come across that way because, in his view, it draws on the rhetorical tradition of the European right. “In other countries it’s far more common, you can read French political statements and if you compare the language they’re using its comparable vis a vis what we wrote in english, its something you don’t see in the U.S.”
But at its core, what NYYRC expressed is a worldview which experiences an attack on Trump as an attack on his supporters. His arrest is the arrest of those who vote for him; a triumph for Trump is a triumph for these followers, and a disaster or humiliation for him is meant to be understood as only provoking those behind him.
Wax enthusiastically agreed with me when I put this interpretation of the statement to him.
“This is not just how we’re stating it, it’s how most people in his camp and in his world genuinely feel,” Wax replied. “And he has tapped into that as well. Even in his messaging, he stated repeatedly, ‘they’re not coming after me, they’re coming after you, and I can be your retribution.’ He’s a proxy for a much bigger fight.”
Isn’t that cult-y? Don’t critics on both the left and the right who identify this as a trait of a cult of personality have a point?
“I think the attacks of it being a cult of personality are trying to demean the fact that he has a strong following that likes him,” he said.
He went on to describe “low propensity voters” as Trump’s “ticket to the White House,” saying that they “like Trump for Trump, they like his gait, they like his mannerisms, they like the way he carries himself.”
“You can call it a cult of personality, that’s the negative way of saying it, but at the end of the day, he’s simply popular and people do like him,” he said.