The right was on its heels there for a moment. But, with a week having passed since the Southern District of New York implicated the president of the United States in felony campaign-finance violations, the Republican firmament has digested the allegations and formulated a response. It’s no surprise that many (though by no means all) on the right have assumed a defensive crouch in solidarity with the titular head of the GOP, a figure whose political fortunes are directly tied to their own. What is jarring—and more than a little telling—is how their response has been almost entirely tactical.

So far, the most compelling defenses of the president’s conduct have been legal. His many denials notwithstanding, prosecutors allege that Donald Trump personally directed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to make illegal payments to two women with whom he had extramarital relations. Those payments were explicitly designed to fend off a potential sex scandal that could have altered the course of the 2016 presidential election.

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