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The Ugly Truth

E. Jean Carroll Could Win Her Defamation Suit Against Trump. Will the GOP Even Care?

A Manhattan jury may decide that the rape claims against the former president are credible, setting Republicans up for another moral test they will surely fail.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
E. Jean Carroll arrives to federal court in New York City on April 25.

This is still entirely hypothetical, I realize, but it seems to me that it’s about time for someone to start asking Republican elected officials: If this jury in New York finds in favor of E. Jean Carroll, are you going to be OK with having a rapist as your presidential candidate?

Before I get into the meat of this, a few factual points. This is not a criminal trial—the state, county, or city of New York did not file criminal rape charges against Donald Trump. This is a federal civil defamation suit brought by Carroll against Trump. She alleges that Trump’s denials and insults have damaged her reputation and career. But interestingly, she also added a battery claim under a recent New York law that allows survivors of sexual violence to sue for attacks committed against them long ago, outside previously existing statutes of limitations.

So I want to be clear here: If these nine jurors (six men and three women) find for Carroll, Trump will not be a “convicted rapist.”

However: We will have a circumstance in which a jury of the former president’s peers concluded that Carroll, not he, is telling the truth. Legally, that doesn’t make Trump a convicted rapist. But morally … let me put it like this. If you asked me, and I suspect if you asked most people, even as a hypothetical, removing the names: If a civil jury finds for a woman who accuses a man of rape, is that man a rapist? Most people would say yes.

The jury has not yet decided this case in Carroll’s favor. But it’s not out of the question that it will. It sounds as if Trump attorney Joe Tacopina’s attempt to skewer Carroll on cross-examination last week went horribly; by all accounts she held up very well and reinforced her credibility. So I circle back to the question with which I opened this column: Senator X, Representative Y, a jury in New York has just in essence agreed with E. Jean Carroll that your party’s presidential front-runner raped her. Is that OK?

We know what the answers will be. The main answer will be, “Oh, so sorry, I gotta run,” as the doors on the Senate subway quietly close. A second answer will be, “I have to run to a meeting.” A third answer will be, “I dispute your phrasing, this was just a defamation case, no more.”

These will all be pathetic responses. But they won’t be anywhere near as sickening as the fourth response, which will emanate from the likes of Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Matt Gaetz. That response will be something like: “This was a rigged case from the start! Of course, a bunch of Manhattan liberals found for the woman. Donald Trump is an innocent man!”

Right-wing agitators and media figures will largely say the same thing, I think, although it will be worth keeping an eye on Fox in this instance. Maybe a credible rape story is a bridge too far even for Rupert Murdoch, or at least maybe it can serve as an excuse to jettison Trump and get behind someone else.

But in the end it will all circle back to what it always circles back to: the base. Funny, until I typed it that way, the Al Qaeda reference hadn’t really occurred to me (Al Qaeda means “the base”). The base will not abandon Trump over this, because for the base, the story line in the event of an adverse finding by this jury is already chiseled into stone—liberal court, woke jury, et cetera. In this sense it hardly even matters if Fox turns on Trump at this point and decides to take a stand. Anyway, we’ve seen that movie, and it won’t. Those Dominion depositions told us everything we need to know about Fox and its “stands.”

Does anything matter? Maybe, just maybe, if a majority of Republican senators were willing to stand together en masse and say, Enough, we truly are finished with him, and we mean it this time. If 30 of them said that and really stood by it, that actually would make some kind of difference. It might not deny Trump the 2024 nomination, but it would start guiding the party back to something vaguely resembling normalcy.

But we know the truth here, which is that there’s a greater chance of Prince Charles pre-abdicating the throne than there is of invertebrate Republicans doing that. There’s also the reality of the Republican Party’s broad attitude toward women’s rights and autonomy. Abortion, rape … stop all that whining.

There are more legal cases to come, besides the Carroll one. Will Trump be indicted in Georgia this summer? As everyone says, that sure looks like that openest-and-shuttest of the potential actions hanging over his head. Then there’s Jack Smith, overseeing both the January 6 and the classified documents probes, and he appears to mean business. So by this fall, or the end of the year, Trump could be staring at three indictments.

And, depending on what happens in that Manhattan federal courtroom, nine citizens may decide that Carroll was defamed—and by extension assert that her claims of rape were credible. Let’s not pass lightly over that word. Rape is a uniquely evil crime. Read these sickening statistics. Fully 15 percent of all women in America have been raped. One in six. There are around 300,000 rapes a year in this country. That’s 820 a day. E. Jean Carroll says that one of them, on one day, was committed by a man who might be heading a presidential ticket. If a jury of his peers believes her, will his party care at all?