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Why Trump's McCarthy Tweet Is So 'Ridiculous'

Trump critics have long found similarities between Trump and McCarthy as they both regularly launched unfounded accusations against opponents as a means of discrediting critics and creating division

Attorney Roy Cohn, former U.S. Senate Committee Counsel, is shown in a January 1969 photo
AP Photo

On Sunday morning, U.S. President Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of attacks on Twitter against the New York Times and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump made one claim in particular which quickly drew scorn on Twitter, writing that, "Mueller and his gang make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby!"

Trump using former Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy as a means of attack on Mueller and the Russia investigation immediately drew surprise and condemnation, given Trump’s close relationship with McCarthy’s protege Roy Cohn. Fox New's Brit Hume replied to the Tweet, saying, "This is ridiculous," while historian Kevin Kruse explained he is regularly asked about the similarities between Trump and McCarthy.

Cohn served as McCarthy's chief counsel for the Army–McCarthy hearings during the so-called "red scare" of the 1950s and was a U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor at the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg - which resulted in their executions.

According to NPR, “Trump met Cohn in 1973 in a Manhattan nightclub. The two became friends, allies, business associates. Some say Cohn was Trump's mentor, or even his surrogate father. This much is clear: Cohn was Trump's model in the handling of public relationships and media warfare.”

Trump himself praised Cohn in the “Art of the Deal,” writing, “"Tough as he was, Roy (Cohn, McCarthy's protege) always had a lot of friends, and I'm not embarrassed to say I was one. He was a truly loyal guy...a great guy to have on your side..."

When New York disbarred Cohn in 1986 for “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation,” Trump testified on his behalf at the hearing. Cohn died of complications from AIDs in August of that year.  

Trump critics have long found similarities between Trump and McCarthy as they both regularly launched unfounded accusations against opponents as a means of discrediting critics and creating chaos.

Ron Elving wrote that Melania Trump once said during the 2016 presidential campaign that "when you attack Donald, he will punch back 10 times harder." "That was Cohn's modus operandi for many years before he taught it to Trump," said Elving.

In June 1954 Senator Ralph E. Flanders, a Republican from Vermont, said “I have been led to remember the part which the Senator [McCarthy] played in the investigation of the Malmedy massacre and the strange tenderness which he displayed for the Nazi ruffians involved. Perhaps this would not have been enough to perpetuate foreboding, but his anti-Communism so completely parallels that of Adolf Hitler as to strike fear into the heart of any defenseless minority.” Flanders added, McCarthy, “spreads division and confusion wherever he goes.”

Flanders criticism of McCarthy was echoed throughout the U.S. media in August of 2017 when Trump refused to unequivocally condemn deadly violence by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Below are three articles from 1953 to 1954 from the Jewish Telegraph Agency documenting criticism of McCarthy for claiming attacks against Roy Cohn were anti-Semitic:

Jewish Groups Assail Mccarthy for False “anti-semitic” Issue

July 24, 1953

NEW YORK (Jul. 23)

The American Jewish Congress, the Jewish Labor Committee and the 34 other national and local Jewish organizations affiliated with the National Community Relations Advisory Council today issued a joint statement assailing Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for charging with anti-Semitism, those who criticize his Jewish investigators Roy M. Cohn and David Schine.

The statement pointed out that every American has the night to express his views regarding the statements and actions of public official or his critics has no relevance or place in such discussions, it emphasized.

“Senator McCarthy’s characterization of criticisms of Messrs. Cohn and Schine as anti-Semitism is an irrespsonsible attempt to thwart the legitimate right of criticism, ” the statement said. “The injection of religious considerations in areas where they have no pertinence is a favorite device of demagogues. It is sadly ironic that this standard stock in trade of Communists and other totalitarian societies should be employed by one who claims to be in the forefront of the fight to preserve democratic institutions.

“As responsible Jewish bodies, we have never hesitated to challenge and identify those who falsely inject religious or racial issues into a discussion of national affairs. We condemn such attempts to mislead the American people and denounce such fraudulent efforts to confuse and distort public opinion. We shall continue with equal vigor to expose anti-Semitism and false charges of anti-Semitism from whatever source they may emanate, ” the statement concluded.

The National Council of Jewish Women, in a telegram to Sen. McCarthy, said: “One of the inexcusable devices of demagoguery is to avoid meeting public criticism on an issue by charges unrelated to it.” It added: “As American citizens, the Jews of the United States are accustomed to taking their chances in public life on the basis of merit and character. Nothing could be more inflammatory of anti-Semitism than the kind of irrelevant charge which you have made.”

Mccarthy Denounced for Charging Sen. Monroney with Anti-semitism

July 21, 1953

WASHINGTON (Jul. 20)

The American Jewish Congress, the Jewish Labor Committee and the 34 other national and local Jewish organizations affiliated with the National Community Relations Advisory Council today issued a joint statement assailing Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for charging with anti-Semitism, those who criticize his Jewish investigators Roy M. Cohn and David Schine.

The statement pointed out that every American has the night to express his views regarding the statements and actions of public official or his critics has no relevance or place in such discussions, it emphasized.

“Senator McCarthy’s characterization of criticisms of Messrs. Cohn and Schine as anti-Semitism is an irrespsonsible attempt to thwart the legitimate right of criticism, ” the statement said. “The injection of religious considerations in areas where they have no pertinence is a favorite device of demagogues. It is sadly ironic that this standard stock in trade of Communists and other totalitarian societies should be employed by one who claims to be in the forefront of the fight to preserve democratic institutions.

“As responsible Jewish bodies, we have never hesitated to challenge and identify those who falsely inject religious or racial issues into a discussion of national affairs. We condemn such attempts to mislead the American people and denounce such fraudulent efforts to confuse and distort public opinion. We shall continue with equal vigor to expose anti-Semitism and false charges of anti-Semitism from whatever source they may emanate, ” the statement concluded.

The National Council of Jewish Women, in a telegram to Sen. McCarthy, said: “One of the inexcusable devices of demagoguery is to avoid meeting public criticism on an issue by charges unrelated to it.” It added: “As American citizens, the Jews of the United States are accustomed to taking their chances in public life on the basis of merit and character. Nothing could be more inflammatory of anti-Semitism than the kind of irrelevant charge which you have made.”

Mccarthy Charged in Senate with Causing “foreboding” Among Jews

June 2, 1954

WASHINGTON (Jun. 1)

Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy was charged today on the floor of the Senate with causing “foreboding” among Jews. The charge was voiced by Sen. Ralph E. Flanders, Vermont Republican, who devoted a portion of a speech in the Senate to assailing McCarthy’s tactics.

Describing these tactics at great length, Sen. Flanders stated that besides other activities, Sen. McCarthy “spreads division and confusion wherever he goes. Note, for instance, the foreboding he inspires in our fellow citizens of Jewish blood and faith. Among them this is well nigh universal in spite of the fact that his two closest associates are Hebrews.”

In seeking the origin of what he described as “foreboding” on the part of American Jews, Sent Flanders said: “I have been led to remember the part which the Senator played in the investigation of the Malmedy massacre and the strange tenderness which he displayed for the Nazi ruffians involved. Perhaps this would not have been enough to perpetuate foreboding, but his anti-Communism so completely parallels that of Adolf Hitler as to strike fear into the heart of any defenseless minority.”

Sen. Flanders said Americans should always remember “that Communism and Nazism and other dictatorships resemble each other far more closely than any of them resembles the free world into which we were born and in which we hope our children and grandchildren will live.”

It is “not the Jews alone” who have “reason to be troubled,” he said. He pointed out that Sen. McCarthy was responsible for selecting J. B. Matthews as staff director although Mr. Matthews “charged the Protestant ministry with being in effect the center of Communist influence in this country.” Sen. Flanders also pointed to the concern he said was felt by many Catholics and cited the criticism levelled against Sen. McCarthy by Bishop Sheil of Chicago. He asserted that Sen. McCarthy is trying “to inflame religious and racial bigotry.”

MCCARTHY CHALLENGES SEN. FLANDERS TO TESTIFY UNDER OATH

Upon learning of Sen. Flanders’ speech, Sen. McCarthy temporarily interrupted the televised McCarthy-Stevens hearings to make an answer. He attacked Sen. Flanders’ speech and mentioned that Roy Cohn, the McCarthy committee chief counsel, is Jewish. He called the Flanders’ statements “vicious and dishonest.”

Sen. McCarthy urged that Sen. Flanders be requested to appear before the committee headed by Sen, Karl Mundt and he required to testify under oath. At first, McCarthy demanded that Sen. Flanders be subpoenaed but he changed his mind and had this striken from the record, replacing it with a demand that the Vermont Senator be “requested” to appear to face Sen. McCarthy and Mr. Cohn.