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Friday, May 10, 2024

Opinion | Trump Is Not Invincible - The New York Times

Trump Is Not Invincible

Two men (Donald Trump and Todd Blanche, one of his lawyers) stand behind metal barricades.
Pool photo by Jeenah Moon

"In the folk wisdom of recent American politics, Donald Trump is a figure of herculean invulnerability to traditional scandal. What lands as a crippling blow to most politicians leaves nary a scratch on Trump, who effortlessly deflected the slings and arrows of the 2016 presidential campaign and paid no discernible price for the “Access Hollywood” tape, his racism or his general incoherence.

As the tribune of a discontented, “forgotten” people, this folk wisdom goes, Trump draws strength from efforts to hold him accountable. To try to halt Trump’s march is to make him more popular, and more powerful, than he was before.

We saw this view of Trump at work in the run-up to his first impeachment. “Why Democrats’ Attempts to Rein in Trump With Impeachment Could Make His Presidency Stronger,” declared Time magazine on the eve of the House impeachment vote in 2019. We saw this view again, in 2021, after Trump was acquitted by the Senate following his second impeachment. “Trump,” wrote The Guardian, “always thrived on the principle that what does not kill him makes him stronger.”

At the moment, Trump is on trial for falsifying business records as part of his attempt to suppress public knowledge of his affair with Stormy Daniels, a porn star. As part of their case against the former president, prosecutors for the State of New York have accused Trump of spearheading an effort to catch and kill stories that might have undermined his 2016 bid for the White House.

If convicted on any of the 34 felony counts arrayed against him, Trump — the first former president in American history to be criminally prosecuted — could face up to four years in prison. Trump could even go to jail now if he continues to violate the gag order imposed by the judge, Juan M. Merchan.

Strangely, as the trial unfolds and a prostrate, palpably demoralized Trump awaits his fate, the folk wisdom about his supposed invulnerability has re-entered the bloodstream of our political discourse.

Let’s look at the situation as it stands. Despite his best efforts, Trump has not been able to summon the grass-roots activity that signals political strength. There are no febrile crowds demanding justice for him at the courthouse door, no mob poised to wreak havoc in his name — not that he didn’t try to make one appear. And the broader public does not appear to have a problem with either the trial or the prospect of jail time for the former president.

A majority of Americans — 54 percent in the latest poll conducted for NPR and PBS NewsHour — say that the hush money trial and other investigations into Trump to find out whether he broke the law are “fair.” Forty-two percent of Americans, according to a CNN poll released last month, say that Trump’s conduct in his Manhattan trial has been “mostly inappropriate.” Twenty-five percent say that his behavior has been “mostly appropriate.” And according to a January Reuters/Ipsos poll, 71 percent of Americans — including 55 percent of Republicans — say that if Trump did break the law, he should be prosecuted, and if convicted, sentenced to prison.

If there were any sign that this trial was an asset for Trump — any sign that it put him on stronger ground with the voting public — you would find it in national polling. It’s not there. What we see, instead, is a steady head-to-head between Trump and President Biden.

There is also the evidence of the Republican presidential primaries, in which voters are still casting ballots. On Tuesday, nearly 22 percent of Republican primary voters in Indiana pulled the proverbial lever for Nikki Haley, who left the race in March. She won 16.6 percent of the vote in the Pennsylvania primary two weeks earlier. The trial, in other words, has not even rallied dissident Republicans toward the party’s standard-bearer and away from a failed challenger.

You don’t need anything to make sense of the picture here — it should be clear and sharp to the naked eye. It is bad, for his political prospects, that Trump is on trial. It hurts him, with voters, to face allegations of criminal wrongdoing and sexual misconduct in a court of law.

Trump does not gain strength with every attempt to place limits on his behavior. Accountability does not jolt him into political action. And just because you give him a stage, it does not mean that there will be an award-winning performance. Trump was not helped by either of his impeachments, and there’s no reason other than his own mythology to think that a trial and conviction will play out any differently.

Since 2015, there has been this strong desire to make Trump more complicated than he is, as if his power and influence mean that he must have depth and substance. But he doesn’t. Trump is a glorified bully. And like all bullies, he wilts in the face of anyone willing to stand up and say no.

Jamelle Bouie became a New York Times Opinion columnist in 2019. Before that he was the chief political correspondent for Slate magazine. He is based in Charlottesville, Va., and Washington. @jbouie"

Opinion | Trump Is Not Invincible - The New York Times

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