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Donald Trump Is Running to Stay Out of Prison. Say It, Democrats!

Every president has thought about how history would judge him. Forty-five has more immediate concerns.

Donald Trump
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As we anticipate the third and fourth indictments of Donald Trump, both of which look like they might land before school starts, I am reminded that presidents all think about their place in history. George Washington did—he was careful, for example, not to do certain things that would carry the whiff of monarchical ambition. He eschewed a third term that he could easily have won because he knew that he was setting the precedent for all who would follow him.

Viewed in this light, Trump’s run to return to the White House might be seen as his attempt at vindication after a narrow defeat in 2020. Although in Trump’s case, one might put it less loftily: Trump, ever the emotional 5-year-old, is livid that Joey’s Marky Sparky Blast Pad Rocket is bigger and cooler than his and the kids like Joey better. So he’s running to right that grievous historical wrong.

But let’s be clear about Trump’s main motivation. Yeah, he wants to be president. He wants to corrupt and destroy democracy, bask in the radioactive glow of his sycophants’ blubbery praise over his perfect phone calls to Putin, start the mother of all culture wars, and all that. But mostly: He wants to stay out of prison.

And in fact, these aren’t really different reasons. As in a cheap tapestry that unravels if you pull on one thread, everything here is connected. For example: Part of Trump’s plan to destroy democracy is no doubt to figure out a way to make himself president for life. Did you notice Trump’s praise for Xi Jinping last week in his sit-down with Sean Hannity? “Think of President Xi. Central casting, brilliant guy. You know, when I say he’s brilliant, everyone says, ‘Oh that’s terrible.’ Well, he runs 1.4 billion people with an iron fist. Smart, brilliant, everything perfect.

It’s worth mentioning as an aside that about a month ago, the New Zealand–based Human Rights Measurement Initiative found China to be the worst country in the world with respect to its own citizens’ rights. When you’ve topped North Korea, you’ve really made it. That Trump calls this “perfect” is another hint at what he has in mind for his restoration, and if that quote doesn’t terrify you, you’re sleepwalking.

But the main point is this: His admiration for Xi obviously is built around the fact that Xi has eliminated dissent and cleared the decks to run China forever. We should take a moment to revisit how he did this. Back in 2018, the National People’s Congress, or NPC, voted to end the two-term limit for presidents. The vote was 2,958–2 (with three abstaining). Then, this March, the NPC endorsed Xi’s third term. That vote was 2,952–0. I wonder where those five went between the first vote and the second.

What are the advantages of being president for life? Free housing, free travel, endless opportunities to grift your gullible followers, all the Thousand Island dressing you could dream of. But the biggest perk of all? No one can throw your corrupt ass in jail. At least not now, not how our laws are written and have been interpreted.

As we know, it is official Justice Department policy that sitting presidents can’t be prosecuted. So for Trump, being president for the next four years would in essence wipe these indictments off the books. As for criminal trials that started before he was sworn in on January 20, 2025, should he win? Easy peasy. He can pardon himself. Come on. You think he wouldn’t do it? You think he couldn’t count on the right-wing media to endorse it as no big whoop and look at those stupid fulminating libtards, along with a chorus of right-wing, Leonard Leo–anointed constitutional “scholars” to explain why it’s all fine?

Of course all that would happen. And Trump would make sure he had an attorney general who would agree with him on every point. In fact, my bet today for who will be Donald Trump’s attorney general if he wins? Donald Trump. Yes. Think about it. It makes so much sense that it almost worries me that my brain is even able to go there.

And beyond 2029: Why stop at four years? Why risk it? Get the Constitution suspended, and get in there for life. Then you can break all the laws you want forever.

In sum: The time to get Trump is now. Aileen Cannon has evidently figured out that she’s only in her early 40s and is going to be around long after Trump is gone and had better worry at least a little about her post-Trump reputation and has scheduled the classified documents trial for next May (37 counts). He’s also sweating the Stormy Daniels hush-money case, which is going to trial next March (34 counts). And of course we sit here and await possible charges from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis with respect to Trump’s attempts to steal votes in Georgia in 2020, and from Jack Smith on January 6 incitement (and maybe more—over the weekend, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s office confirmed that Smith’s team had reached out to Kemp, as it had previously to former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey).

The law will do what the law does. But in terms of politics, the Democrats have to keep all this front and center and just repeat over and over again that Trump has four places he might be living two years hence: Mar-a-Lago, the White House, a federal prison, or (a bit of a long shot, but not impossible) a Russian dacha along the Black Sea just south of lovely Gelendzhik. He’s running for president to stay out of the slammer. That’s about as lofty as this gangster’s historical aspirations get.