No one held the door open for him as he walked into the courtroom; he had to keep it open with his left hand.
The judge was on the dais, elevated above the former president. No one in authority throughout his presidency had been above Trump and holding more power for what went on in any room than Trump had had.
Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, was at a table seated in the middle of four lawyers assisting him. His table was level with the prosecution’s table on to his right. This is why Trump wore a scowl throughout. There was no banter; he even declined to talk to the camera on the side of the corridor he walked to get into the courtroom.
That never happens.
Trump’s demeanor reflected not only his anger but also his understanding that, at least for now, this could not be brought under his control. So the day ended with another ghost-of-OJ-Simpson-roaming-the-LA-freeways sky cam video chase on his plane and his retinue of cars as they whisked him into the safety of Mar-a-Lago.
And there Trump unloaded. Just 30 minutes. Not your normal Fidel-like stemwinder. But the anger, the reach for retribution, the rage, were evident throughout.
No, Trump did not talk about the issues facing the country and what he would do if returned to the presidency to deal with them. What Trump was clear on was his intent to wreak vengeance on his persecutors. The judge had cautioned Trump not to incite any violence against the court and the proceedings, and not to place by his words any of the legal officers of the court in any danger. But that did not pose any speed bump to Trump’s eruptions against the Manhattan District Attorney who had the temerity to bring an indictment, or against the judge, who had the gall to hold the legal proceeding, and their families and their associates. Trump lamented his ordeal with unrestrained contempt.
At the end of this legal proceeding, whenever that occurs, either this year through a dismissal of the charges or next year through an acquittal or a conviction or a hung jury, there will be a reckoning. And Trump is determined not only to win but to crush his adversaries.
Where does last week’s spectacle leave Trump at this stage of his march to be nominated a third time by the Republican party for the presidency?
Trump is as cunning and canny as ever, and he never lets his opponents have any room to get outside the shackles he has placed across the party.
The consensus at least among most Republicans in the wake of Trump’s lighting the fuse on the indictment, by claiming 10 days before it happened that DA Alvin Bragg was coming to arrest him, was that this was a weak case. A political case. A two-bit witch hunt for sure, even more frivolous than the illegitimate investigations of Ukraine and Robert Mueller and the Russians. Almost a joke. That aggregation of scorn made it easy for Trump to get his field marshals out there denouncing the Manhattan DA, creating a wave of support for Trump against the politics of this persecution. To date there have been no audible voices among Republicans in Congress saying that Trump had this indictment coming.
That political exercise closed the door, at least for the moment, on any momentum any of the Republican hopefuls – Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Asa Hutchinson, Tim Scott, Chris Sununu, and Ron DeSantis – held that they could get some lightning under their campaigns.
The party locked around Trump and drew up the drawbridges to the castle.
Trump now has a potent precedent to how to play the politics for the bigger guns that are aimed at him:
The pending potential indictments in Georgia, for Trump’s alleged role in interfering with the certification of the vote in that state in the 2020 presidential election, and for Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice and mishandling of classified documents after leaving the White House. Those indictments, if in fact they are forthcoming in the next few weeks, are much more loaded with much more serious abuses of power. But indictments #2 and #3 would only reinforce the Republican armour Trump erected around him in the Manhattan courtroom.
The polling over the past several days reinforces this reality. Over 70% of Republican voters believe Trump should be returned to the presidency. Trump is over 50% support in a match-up against DeSantis. No other candidate has broken single digits.
So if Trump really is the loser so many of his competitors for the White House think he is – that he ruined Republican majorities in 2018 (when Trump lost control of the House). 2020 (when Trump lost the presidency), and 2022 (when Trump kept Republicans from winning the Senate) – and you want the party to turn the page and get on with Trumpism without Trump, what are you going to do about it?
To reiterate this memo to Republican candidates as the former president faces indictment: You want the nomination? Trump is not going away.
You have to take it from him. You have to beat him. You have to tell America why Trump must not be president. You have to take Trump down. Or you lose.
And where does this leave Joe Biden and the Democrats? The president has no opposition to his renomination. The president is being president, routing his achievement across the country, asserting US leadership in Ukraine and across the globe, rallying Middle America on guns and abortion rights, working to get that “soft landing” for the economy as interest rates reach their peak while jobs growth is maintained – in other words, claiming and holding the centre of American politics, which is where elections are won and lost. Yes, Biden is old, and most American believe he is too old. Most Americans wish the Democrats would nominate someone else. Yes, Biden’s approval is stuck in the low 40s.
But against Trump? A man who may spend more days in court early next year than on the campaign trail?
Biden was supposed to announce his campaign for re-nomination right after the Christmas break. But it didn’t happen. It may not happen until the northern summer, or even later. Why not keep being the president soaring above it all?
So this week, Biden is headed to Ireland this week, to celebrate heritage and the values that made Biden, Biden.
And Trump? He wished everyone a happy Easter. “Happy Easter to all, including those that dream endlessly of destroying our country … [and] to all of those weak & pathetic rinos, radical left democrats, socialists marxists, & communists who are killing our nation, remember, we will be back!”
Trump is certain it is a winning message.