Like most former presidents, Donald Trump has been spending his time playing golf, thinking about his legacy, and, of course, practicing his perp walk. With an indictment from the Manhattan district attorney reportedly just days away, Mar-a-Lago’s leading potential felon “welcomes the idea of being paraded by the authorities before a throng of reporters and news cameras,” and is wondering whether he should smile for the cameras on his big day, according to The New York Times. You could imagine he’s even mulling a small wave to the media scrum—if he can manage it while wearing handcuffs.
For all the feigned merriment at Mar-a-Lago and for all the genuine joy among many Democrats and Never Trumpers, this is a genuinely depressing moment. Not because Trump has disgraced the office of the president, which has occurred on almost an hourly basis since Inauguration Day 2017. Rather, the potential indictment over hush-money payments to a porn star has brought out the worst in everybody, including Trump’s critics. Take a gander at all the people in stormy weather over Trump’s cover-up of his affair with Stormy Daniels:
Richard Nixon was famously depicted as emerging from the sewer. Trump’s special skill is that he comes equipped with a built-in drill that can always dig a deeper sewer.
Announcing his coming indictment, Trump on Saturday called for a reprise of January 6 with several inflammatory posts on Truth Social. “WE MUST SAVE AMERICA!” he wrote, adding, “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” Nixon, at least, opposed rioting in the streets. Trump wants to foment it.
The siren song of an indictment over a siren with the stage name Stormy Daniels proved too much for Manhattan’s fledgling district attorney, who was elected in 2021. Cyrus Vance Jr., Bragg’s predecessor, repeatedly considered an indictment of Trump over the hush-money payments, but the former D.A. thought that felony charges would be tricky to prove.
The apparent legal problem is that it seems comparatively easy to win a slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanor case charging that Trump falsified business records to hide the zip-your-lips bribe during the 2016 campaign. But to make it a felony, Bragg presumably has to depend on an untested legal theory that New York State law can be expanded to cover the payments as a violation of federal campaign-spending statutes.
Other than bragging rights, why is the beleaguered Bragg, who had a rough first year in office, rushing to get this case filed first? Especially since there are more relevant federal investigations going on over the January 6 insurrection, fake electors, and the cache of secret documents at Mar-a-Lago. Plus, an Atlanta grand jury is investigating Trump’s flagrant attempt to pressure Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, “to find 11,780 votes.”
Strict limits on the powers of the federal government are an integral part of the belief system of conservative Republicans—unless Trump’s neck is on the line.
It was straight out of the right-wing playbook when Republicans—such as Jim Jordan, the always-unjacketed and incendiary chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, ridiculed Bragg as “a [George] Soros-backed, crazy, left-wing prosecutor.” The 92-year-old Soros must be working around the clock in a frenzy of diabolical conspiracies to justify his starring role in GOP demonology.
But Kevin McCarthy didn’t stop there. He orchestrated a move by Jordan and other GOP committee chairs to investigate Bragg’s investigation, on the flimsy grounds that federal funds are fueling the local prosecutor. Presumably, McCarthy, that great proponent of federalism, must be under the mistaken assumption that Congress has the same powers over New York City that it has deployed against the District of Columbia City Council.
The Religious Right
The evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, used his verified Twitter account on Monday to charge that left-wingers and the media are out to arrest Trump in order to “prevent him from running for president again—this would be a huge mistake.” Of course, Trump allegedly getting involved with a porn star, shortly after the birth of his son Barron, was saintly behavior by a godly man whose favorite book of the Bible is supposedly 2 Corinthians.
The deafening silence by social conservatives—those bitter foes of drag shows—about Trump’s libertine ways conjures up another book of the Bible. In Matthew 15:14, Jesus says, “And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”
Would-Be GOP Presidential Candidates
Ron DeSantis in an interview this week with Piers Morgan finally said the obvious about Trump, without ever mentioning the former president by name: “It’s not saying that you don’t ever make a mistake in your personal life, but I think, what type of character are you bringing?”
Whoa. That’s really going for the jugular. DeSantis’s main rival for the nomination is about to be arrested, and the most the Florida governor can muster is mushy, syntactically scrambled references to “character.” But compared to the other GOP White House dreamers, DeSantis is wielding a chain saw rather than cuticle scissors.
Mike Pence, the profile-in-piety former vice president, merely denounced “the radical left” and its “politically charged prosecution” in an ABC Sunday interview. I half-expected Pence to cluelessly invoke the TV show Pawn Stars and wonder why Trump is being prosecuted for his use of a storage locker.
And New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who is flirting with a presidential bid as a non-Trump-tinged outsider, downplayed the charges on CNN, saying timorously, “There are other issues that really take precedent in terms of where this country needs to go.” Somehow, I suspect, Sununu with his talk of “other issues” was not referring to the Access Hollywood tape.
If you switch on cable TV or open any news website, there are more hot takes about Trump’s prosecution than hotcakes at IHOP. Pity any former prosecutor who is so obscure that he or she has not been asked to opine on television or offer a pithy quote to an eager reporter.
But once again, the media wants to rack up the final score before the players take the field. We are in unprecedented territory—about to indict a major political figure, let alone a former president—and there is no way to be certain how it will play out. Yes, Trump has proven impervious to political gravity for almost eight years. But Icarus had a good run as well.
Maybe I’m channeling Michelle Obama (“When they go low, we go high”), but I have deep concerns about the common fantasy of seeing the Orange One in an orange jumpsuit, presumably with an extra-long tie at the neck.
The overarching goal should be to make Trump the most discredited figure in modern American political history. The danger of extreme revenge fantasies through the criminal justice system is that they smack of a banana republic and run the risk of making Trump a jailed martyr.
Yes, prosecute Trump on all valid fronts, particularly his tinpot-tyrant efforts to overturn the 2020 election. But I will be overjoyed if he ends up a lonely, isolated figure at Mar-a-Lago, joined only by Rudy Giuliani and Mike Lindell, brooding about how he blew it all on ego, spleen, and a hatred of democracy.