Trump Republicans Are Increasingly Concerned About Criminal Justice Reform. Here’s Why

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AP Photo/Alex Brandon

The political landscape in America is anything but monolithic, even among people in the same party. The divide between Republicans who prefer former President Donald Trump and those who do not necessarily connect themselves to him has been a subject of conversation on the right since the former president first came onto the national political stage.

An Economist/YouGov poll revealed some rather interesting differences between the Trump/Non-Trump factions of the conservative movement when it comes to various issues. For instance, Trump Republicans are more likely to oppose sending aid to Ukraine. But one of the most noteworthy variations centers on criminal justice reform. Trump Republicans were 19 percentage points more likely to say that reforming the justice system is a very important issue.

The question is: Why?

The most glaring reason why Trump Republicans might view criminal justice reform as a critical issue is the slew of politically motivated indictments brought by Democrats against the former president. So far, there have been four indictments issued against Trump.

New York, Georgia, and the Justice Department are taking criminal action against the former president for a variety of issues including hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, mishandling classified documents, and issues pertaining to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. The former president currently faces 91 charges in total.

There can be no doubt that these indictments have made the issue personal to Trump’s supporters, many of whom likely view this as a weaponization of the government against him, and by extension, those who share his beliefs.

Moreover, various reports detailing how the FBI and Justice Department have been targeting conservatives, including pro-life protesters, Catholics, parents concerned about indoctrination in public schools, and the Jan. 6 defendants only further illustrate why these folks might be worried about corruption in the justice system.

It is also worth noting that the use of the government as a political cudgel against Trump isn’t anything new. Most on the right remember how the FBI was leveraged to promote the infamous Russia collusion hoax and how the agency spied on Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Moreover, during his presidency, Trump championed the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at improving criminal justice and lowering recidivism rates. So far, the program has had tremendous success in decreasing the number of federal prisoners who commit additional crimes after they are released. Many on the right – especially Trump Republicans – cheered the passing of the legislation.

Interestingly enough, several Republican presidential candidates have taken aim at the First Step Act, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis falsely claiming it is a “jailbreak” law that is releasing violent offenders who go on to victimize more people. This further illustrates the divide between Trump Republicans and non-Trump Republicans on criminal justice reform.

Could this reflect a broader paradigm shift in how the Republican Party approaches criminal justice? It’s certainly possible. Even before Trump became the figurehead of the First Step Act, Republicans in Congress had been working with Democrats to hammer out legislation that could be the beginning of a wider push to create a fairer and more just system. While there are plenty on the right who do not approve of making these changes, it seems clear the conservative base is far more amenable to the idea, which is a positive sign for the future of the country.

It is also worth mentioning that if Republicans become more serious about protecting people’s rights and ensuring that our justice system is designed to rehabilitate those who run afoul of the law, it could provide a better counterpoint to the progressive idea of reform, which typically prioritizes protecting violent criminals over safeguarding law-abiding citizens. I’d say people would be far more in alignment with sensible changes to our justice system than they would be with far-leftist ideas that won’t actually make for a safer and freer society. This is one of several areas in which conservatives can be the adults in the room and propose actual solutions for criminal justice.

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