In another era, a politician would have left.
For decades, American elected officials facing criminal charges or serious violations of the public trust would cede their positions of power, however reluctantly, citing a duty to save the country from shame and relieve pressure on its institutions.
Then came Donald J. Trump. Not only is the former president moving forward despite four indictments and 91 felony charges, he is also actively orchestrating a head-on collision between the country's political and legal systems.
The ramifications continued to pile up this week, when the fundamental question of the former president's eligibility for office was all but foisted on a Supreme Court already mired in unprecedented questions surrounding Trump's plot to overturn the 2020 election.
But the heated legal debate over whether Trump participated in an insurrection obscured the extraordinary reality that he is running for president: He is returning with new vengeance and a family playbook built around the notions that he can never lose, will never be convicted and will never truly go away. .
That plan remains intact largely because its approach continues to generate political benefits.
Far from agonizing over the collateral damage of his never-say-die spirit, Trump seems fueled by conflict, closely intertwining his legal defense with his presidential campaign. He has tried to run out the clock on his criminal trials, a strategy that earned him another victory on Friday when the Supreme Court refused to immediately decide a key point of controversy in his case over the 2020 federal election. .
While this year began with most Republicans telling pollsters they preferred a different presidential candidate, the calendar will shift through 2024, with about two-thirds of the party aligned behind Trump. His legal troubles, which in decades past would have bolstered his rivals for the major party presidential nomination, have only caused Republican voters to rally around him more.
“This has been the mystery of the Trump era: Every time we think this is the last straw, it becomes a steel beam that just solidifies his political infrastructure,” said Eliot Spitzer, the former Democratic governor of New York. Spitzer resigned as governor in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, saying at the time that he owed a lot to his family and the public.
Lately, Trump has faced increasing criticism for adopting fascist language and authoritarian tactics. In defending himself, he repeatedly insisted this week that he had never read “Mein Kampf,” Adolf Hitler's Nazi manifesto.
Of course, if there was a guide on how to run traditional American political campaigns, I wouldn't have read it either.
Early in his 2016 candidacy, he disparaged decorated military veterans, and voters overlooked that. When a hot-mic recording surfaced of Trump casually claiming that his celebrity status made it easier to sexually assault women, he resisted calls from fellow Republicans to step aside, dismissing the comments as “locker room talk” and, 32 days later, he won. The presidency.
The cycle repeated itself for years, leading to something of a truism within Trump world that the whirlwind of chaos and coup de théâtre surrounding the former president was almost always surprising, but almost never shocking.
In other words, the absurdity of it all always seemed to make perfect sense.
Even the riot by Trump supporters at the Capitol almost three years ago adhered to that saying. Whether the attack was the final culmination of his presidency or the beginning of a darker phase in American politics, the violence, in retrospect, was as horrific as it was predictable.
After all, Trump had spent four years wielding the powerful pulpit of the White House to insist that any critical reporting was a lie, that any elected official he opposed should not be believed, and that officials could not be trusted. courts.
History in Washington unfolded again in ways that were surprising, but not scandalous. Days after Trump left office, polls showed he maintained high levels of support within his party. House Republicans who had voted to impeach him became targets of censure and challenges in the primaries. Republican leaders visited him at Mar-a-Lago: a constant stream of supplicants bowing before their exiled king.
It soon became clear that the Republican Party's best chance to sideline Trump had passed when 43 of its senators voted to acquit him in his impeachment trial after the Capitol riot.
In an interview last month, Trump practically boasted about continuing his latest presidential campaign despite his criminal charges.
“Other people, if they are ever accused, are left out of politics,” he told Univision. “They go to the microphone. They say, 'I'm going to spend the rest of my life, you know, clearing my name.' I'm going to spend the rest of my life with my family.'”
“I've seen it hundreds of times,” Trump said, concluding that those decisions were always mistakes. “I can tell, you know, it backfired on them.”
Trump's commitment to the fight is rooted in a “concern about not being seen as a loser,” said Mark Sanford, the former Republican governor of South Carolina, who considered resigning as governor in 2009 when an extramarital affair erupted in a scandalous scandal. national. Headlines.
He ultimately remained in office, recalling in an interview this week that he wanted to take responsibility for his actions and hoped his repentance and humility would serve as an example to his four children and lead to reconciliation with his constituents.
Sanford said he doubted Trump would ever consider not running again.
“For him to think about what's best for the republic would mean undergoing a frontal lobotomy,” Sanford said. “From the number of people he has sued over the years to the number of subcontractors he has defrauded and all of his bankruptcies, he has simply bullied his way through life.” . He performs before an audience of one person, and he is not God, he is Donald Trump.”
Former Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said he would advise Trump to end his presidential campaign if one of the former president's federal cases resulted in a felony conviction.
Lott, the former Senate majority leader, was forced to leave his leadership post in 2002 after praising Strom Thurmond, a veteran senator and ardent segregationist who died the following year.
“At some point, someone has to tell him that he has to do what's best for the country and close his campaign,” Lott said of Trump. “But so far I don't see any indication that he plans to go anywhere other than back to the White House.”
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