The chattering classes and liberal establishment can’t give up their obsession with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. They continue to insist it was a Republican “insurrection,” a new Fort Sumter, the first blow struck in a right-wing conspiracy to destroy American democracy. With the midterm elections and a potential wipeout of Democratic majorities looming, the point of this effort is to demonize political opponents while distracting the public from the Biden administration’s abysmal performance.
Former president Donald Trump remains the chief target of this attempt to distort the debate about election integrity into one about a treasonous attempted coup. But lately he’s been displaced in the Left’s crosshairs by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia, a veteran conservative political activist better known by her nickname Ginni.
The upshot of the media coverage is that Ginni Thomas’ texts to Trump administration officials, encouraging them to keep fighting to overturn the results of what she felt was a stolen election, should have led her husband to recuse himself from all election-related cases. The avalanche of liberal commentary goes even further than that. The Thomases are routinely depicted as a uniquely corrupt power couple tarnishing the integrity of the Supreme Court and part of the efforts of extremists to destroy democracy. Indeed, many on the Left have begun to agitate for impeachment of Thomas.
Such arguments about conflicts of interest are hypocritical. That’s not just because the figures yelling the loudest about the Thomases are indifferent to Biden family influence peddling. Judges, and certainly not Supreme Court justices, have never been held to a standard that treated advocacy of political opinions—as opposed to direct financial, legal or personal stakes—as reasons for recusal. Such a standard would disqualify liberal justices as well as conservatives on innumerable cases. Mrs. Thomas was neither a litigant nor directly involved in any of the cases about the 2020 election that the Court considered. Outrage over Justice Thomas’ “failure” to recuse himself is a salvo in the partisan tribal war that characterizes contemporary politics, not a serious argument about judicial ethics.
Ginni Thomas’ texts, statements and even presence at the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally in Washington—though not the subsequent riot—are hardly worthy of a federal investigation. But like many other federal figures on the Right who had nothing to do with the federal riot, she’s likely to be hauled in front of the House’s Jan. 6 Committee. That committee has gone far beyond investigating the riot. It is little more than a McCarthyite witch hunt seeking to brand as criminal any effort to raise questions about the 2020 election —thereby branding all Trump voters as either active or closeted “insurrectionists.”
Reasonable questions can be raised about a 2020 election in which many traditional guardrails of election integrity were discarded. Of course, Mrs. Thomas’ over-the-top characterizations of the election and accusations of fraud in her texts—as well as the Trump White House’s examination of possible options for declaring the election illegitimate—were unwise as well as politically counterproductive. But however foolish they may have been, Democrats’ effort to brand any of these actions and statements as treasonous is not about defending democracy. To the contrary, it’s a banana republic-style campaign to criminalize opponents’ political speech.
But the focus on the Thomases is more than just the Democrats’ attempt to make the insurrection a permanent topic of discussion. It is the latest chapter in a three-decade campaign to delegitimize a black man and his wife for the crime of being conservatives.
The same liberal voices crying foul about the Thomases would, if the figures involved were not conservative icons, decry all criticisms of the justice as racist—as they have done in response to all scrutiny of liberal Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The claim that Ginni has no right to a career and a voice of her own would also be denounced by liberals as patently sexist.
Dating back to the implausible last-minute accusations of sexual harassment raised at his confirmation hearings, which Thomas rightly characterized as a “high-tech lynching,” the justice has been subjected to a ceaseless torrent of ridicule and abuse—including being called an ” Uncle Tom”—unprecedented in the history of the Court. Despite those attacks, he has emerged as a conservative folk hero. Thomas is the institution’s leading conservative thinker and defender of originalist constitutional thought, as well as a critic of the way judicial activists routinely make rulings that are “policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law.”
Yet when one considers the Left’s no-holds-barred efforts to smear Justice Brett Kavanaugh with similarly unsubstantiated allegations, and the recent outrage at even the mild questioning by Republicans of Judge Jackson’s record, it’s clear that what’s at play here is more than double standards .
The avalanche of leftist outrage about the Thomases has nothing to do with Ginni’s alleged indiscretions or even whether it ought to be acceptable for a sitting justice to have a spouse who is a political activist. Rather, it is merely the latest shot fired in an ongoing culture war in which Democrats fight dirty while many Republicans cling to the delusion that playing fair would encourage their opponents to remain civil.
To anyone who had lingering questions about why the conservative base has embraced Trump, it should by now be clear that the former president understood the one-sided nature of this conflict and responded to liberal salvos in kind. The media need to understand that the more they seek to demonize conservatives like the Thomases, the GOP will not merely stick with Trump. It will also support other politicians who reject misleading leftist narratives and fight fire with fire. The result may be an increasingly uncivil public discourse. But the unfair treatment of the Thomases ensures that the era of Republicans responding to personal attacks with gentlemanly restraint is over.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a senior contributor to The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.