In a recent episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart called “BS on Trump and the GOP’s Performative Patriotism.”  In the usual Daily Show style, he made his case using an argument by example. His first set of video examples provided evidence that members of the GOP purport to love the Constitution. The second set of video examples show Trump explicitly rejecting Constitutional rights (such as the First Amendment) and accepted American principles. As Stewart provides the videos in context and there is an abundance of additional evidence available (one can simply go to Fox New’s website), his claims are well supported. In doing this, Stewart stands firmly with the ranks of liberals who claim Republicans don’t believe in the Constitution. It is also common for liberal critics to claim that the GOP does not have any principles beyond doing whatever it takes to claim and hold power. But are these fair claims?

One obvious epistemic problem with answering these questions is that I do not know what really goes on in the minds of Republicans (or anyone). Laying aside the philosophical problem of other minds, there is the practical problem of sorting out what a person believes based on what they say and do. Such an interpretation can always be wrong, especially when one is excessively biased. While I do have a negative view of Trump and his supporters, I will endeavor to follow the principle of charity and try to present them in the best possible light. But I am also constrained by the principle of plausibility: I will limit myself to what can be reasonably claimed.

As Stewart and others (such as Trump himself) have made an indisputable case, I must accept that 1) Trump and the GOP purport to love and follow the Constitution while 2) seeming to endorse principles and actions that violate the Constitution. The challenge is reconciling this apparent inconsistency in the most charitable and reasonable way possible.

There are certainly actual Republicans who match the caricature of the unprincipled opportunist who only cares about power and sees professing love of the Constitution as a useful rhetorical device. After all, Americans are conditioned to see the Constitution as good, and professing a love for it is easy rhetorical gain, which is analogous to how professing to believe in God is a useful persuasive technique. But it would be unfair to simply assume that all Republicans match this caricature. How, then, could someone both love the Constitution and support actions and principles that seem to violate it?

An easy and obvious answer is that all people can accept logically inconsistent claims as being true at the same time. For example, someone could sincerely believe in freedom of speech while also believing that speech they dislike should be silenced.  People can also believe claims while failing to act in ways consistent with those claims. For example, everyone seems to believe that exercise and a good diet are beneficial, but many people do not act on this professed belief. There is no reason to think that these general traits would not apply to beliefs about the Constitution—people sincerely praise what they think is good while also failing to act in ways that are consistent with this professed belief. While this is an appealing explanation and surely applies in many cases, it might seem a bit oversimplified. A more specific account, it might be said, is desirable.

One plausible explanation is that Republicans do love parts of the Constitution while rejecting others. Trump has made it clear what parts he dislikes—those that would interfere with what he wants to do. But he and other Republicans can honestly profess love for the parts that are advantageous. The Republicans profess to love their interpretation of the Second Amendment; this is so well known that it requires no explanation.

 This also ties into the matter of why Republicans tend to insist that America is a Constitutional Republic. They are obviously not wrong, but there is also more to it than just the obvious fact that the United States has a constitution and, at some levels, follows the republican model. While this view can be disputed, the Constitution contains key elements that intentionally allow for minority rule. While it can be debated, Trump has made it clear that he believes that “Republicans would ‘never’ be elected again if it was easier to vote.” The Republicans have also noticed that George Bush was the last Republican president to win the popular vote (in 2004). Since then, the Republicans have lost the popular vote in every presidential election. Trump’s victory, which was a legitimate election, rested on the electoral college—something in the Constitution that the Republicans currently have cause to love. If the country abandoned the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote, then the Republicans would almost certainly lose presidential elections in the foreseeable future. This is not because most Americans really like the Democrats. It is that they dislike the Republicans and their policies. The electoral college, perhaps more as a matter of luck than brilliant strategy, favors the Republicans’ minority rule—hence, they have a good reason to love that part of the Constitution. If it favored the Democrats, one assumes they would be railing against it.

While the House of Representatives is linked to the size of the population it represents, the US Senate has two senators from each state. While there are various arguments in its favor, it provides disproportional political power. My home state of Maine has as many senators as the vastly more populous states of California, Texas, and Florida. In the past, this generally provided no special advantage for either party, but it has come to provide an advantage to the Republican party in that they can (at times) hold a majority in the Senate while representing a numerical minority of the population. This is one practical reason that the GOP has fought hard against D.C. and Puerto Rico becoming states: if these American citizens were granted representation to match their taxation, then they would probably elect Democrats to the House and Senate, and the Republicans would have a more challenging time maintaining minority rule. While it could be more of a matter of accident than brilliant political strategy, the current system provides an advantage to the Republicans. Hence, they have a good reason to love that part of the Constitution.

The part of the Constitution that created the Supreme Court is currently something Republicans have cause to love. Republicans now control the court, and its decisions have consistently moved outside of public opinion. Not surprisingly, these decisions and various revelations about corruption have caused public opinion of the court to reach an all time low. While some would argue that the court should operate beyond publican opinion, it does provide a powerful tool for minority rule, as shown by the recent ruling impacting abortion. At lower levels, there is an ongoing political struggle over appointing judges as they hold incredible power. For example, a ruling on gerrymandering and election maps can effectively determine the outcome of an election. As it stands, the Republicans hold the Supreme Court and this provides them with a huge advantage in maintaining their minority rule and ensuring that their minority views are used to interpret laws.

While the above makes sense and shows that the Republicans are clever strategists, it might be objected that this simply assumes that their love is conditional: they love parts of the Constitution that happen to benefit them now. But surely, they love the Constitution in general, and the apparent inconsistencies can be dissolved.

Consider the First Amendment. Republicans profess to love it and refer to it when they attack cancel culture and argue in favor of free expression on campuses for right-wing speakers. However, these same people, such as Trump and DeSantis, speak out and act against the rights protected by this amendment. Trump is famously hostile to the press, and DeSantis has led the Florida Legislature in an impressive crusade against free expression. It is thus tempting to accuse them of being hypocrites by professing values they fail to follow. But I think this isn’t very accurate—they need not be hypocrites.

In accusing Trump and his fellows of being hypocrites, people usually assume that they are professing to endorse a principle of (in this example) free speech for everyone on all subjects. That is, the critics think that Trump and others are professing to accept the same principle of free speech that most critics (think they) accept. But this is a mistake—while they do accept a principle of free speech, it is a different principle than that one.

On their principles, free speech is a right only certain people expressing themselves on certain subjects should have. To illustrate, a right-wing speaker who wants to go to a college campus to speak about the threat they think transpeople pose is seen as having the right to express themselves. In contrast, a law regulating what content is allowed in the General Education courses in Florida and seeming to mandate compelled ideological expression by faculty is acceptable and not seen as restricting speech. But you might be thinking, isn’t this just hypocritical?

While it might seem that way, it need not be the case. This is because we all accept that there are (sticking to this example) limits on who has freedom of expression and what is allowed by this freedom. The youth are routinely denied such freedom with the approval of the left and right, and people always claim that we should not be free to do things like yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. While we disagree on who should have the freedom and what should be allowed, accepting restrictions need not make one a hypocrite. It is, however, fair to criticize people who are deceptive in professing a broad support of free expression while holding a very narrow principle. They can also be criticized for denying people the freedoms they should have.

A look at democracy might also help explain how a person can profess to love something while also loving a very limited version of that thing. While the United States is a democracy, the types of people allowed to vote have changed significantly. A white, male, slaveholder in the 1800s could tearfully and honestly profess a sincere love of democracy and argue at length about the right to vote and the consent of the governed. The idea that blacks, women, or people without property should be allowed to vote would be absurd to them. While they might be accused of being hypocrites, there is the obvious fact that we all think certain people should be excluded from voting. For example, we don’t think that citizens of Maine should vote in Florida’s elections. Most people also think that people under 18 should not be allowed to vote. While it can be reasonable to argue that democracy should be expanded, it does not follow that a person with a more limited conception of democracy does not love democracy or is a hypocrite. For example, if you think that 16-year-old people should not be allowed to vote, does this make you a hypocrite?

As such, some Republicans could love the Constitution while also thinking that the rights and protections should not be applied to everyone—this would put them well within American tradition. I would argue that they are wrong to do this; but this is different from arguing that they do not love the Constitution. They can love it while thinking it isn’t for everyone.