Former US President Donald Trump will skip another Republican presidential debate this Wednesday night because no one will punish him for not being there.
No other Republican candidate can disdain the second forum of his party and dedicate himself to his own thing, in this case, a speech on the conflict of auto workers in Detroit, in the middle of general election campaign, months before the first cast. primary votes.
While getting his way is the usual political skill of the former president, his talent for avoiding consequences faces a serious challenge in another field: the courts. A New York judge on Tuesday underscored the growing threat posed to Trump by his multiple legal challenges, ruling in a civil case that the former president and his adult children are liable for fraud. . The sentence, which poses a serious threat to the future of the Trump Organization, precedes four criminal trials of the former president for other matters.
Trump can’t control his legal destiny, but his political destiny rests in his hands. He broke the rules of politics as he aimed for a second term in the White House that would burden the constitutional system of government more than the first. Trump has constantly changed his Republican Party and the way it elects presidents, as well as destroying the norms of presidential behavior. He diffused the political consequences of many prosecutions – stemming from his attacks on democracy and other alleged violations – by presenting them as examples of an armed government and judicial system. The power of his political personality intimidated critics of the Republican Party and created a cult of personality that made him immune to attacks from within the party. Years of discrediting the credibility of US elections have convinced millions of his supporters that he is a victim of voter fraud.
That’s why there’s little risk for Trump to boycott the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which honors the former president whose passion rocked his party for decades until Trump’s populist nationalism drove him out. Since last month’s first GOP debate in Wisconsin, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign has faded even more, while former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has regained some buzz and a few percentage points. But there is no sign that, yet another crucial month into the campaign, any candidate has emerged as a significant challenger to Trump and his large lead in the primary polls.
It would be a big surprise if one of his opponents took advantage of the debate, which is effectively a showdown for second place, to launch the kind of scathing criticism of Trump that could dent his standing among Republican Party voters. Only candidates who barely made it into the majority of the polls – such as former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who did not meet the RNC’s criteria to participate in this debate – hammered Trump hard. While candidates like DeSantis and Haley hit Trump on issues like abortion or the calmness of his election, they didn’t risk direct attacks on the former president’s growing extremism. Mike Pence, the former vice president whom Trump’s supporters want hanged on January 6, 2021, became more vitriolic, and was rewarded with a reduced campaign.
Cassidy Hutchinson — an adviser to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who showed more courage in calling out Trump’s misdeeds on Jan. 6 than most other Republicans — marveled at his influence. in his party. with Jake Tapper on CNN this Tuesday, in conjunction with the release of his new book. He included Republicans on the debate stage Wednesday night in his criticism of those who would not loudly condemn Trump’s actions. “Donald Trump has a lot of control over these people, and sometimes, I can’t put my finger on why,” Hutchinson told Tapper.
“Why is it so easy for these people to go with him, why is it so easy for these people to say that he is doing well?” Hutchinson said, adding: “At that point they admitted they were fine with waging a war.” war on our Constitution. That’s not a Republican value, that’s not an American value, (but) those are the types of candidates we’re facing in 2024.”
More of the same from Trump, but worse
Trump’s cloak of political impunity has been revealed by his return to the political center stage in recent days.
Any former president who suggested that the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, should be killed — as Trump did on social media last weekend — would be considered a national pariah. But the latest example of Trump’s bile has gone largely unnoticed amid his daily outpourings of anger.
Trump’s recent threat to use the Justice Department to prosecute his political enemies if he recaptures the White House is enough to disqualify most presidential candidates. Still, it hardly caused any grumbling among Trump’s Republican opponents. Silence also prevailed when the former president said he would use the power of the presidency to investigate a television network, MSNBC, for treason.
Trump has rarely let a day go by without falsely claiming that he won the 2020 election. Before his arrival, the idea of a president seeking to break the chain of peaceful transition to power is unimaginable. But now, he may win the next general election.
A unique challenge to Trump’s impunity
However, the former president’s talent for avoiding the consequences of his actions faces the greatest challenge. On Tuesday, for example, a New York judge determined that Trump and his sons, Eric and Donald Jr, had provided false financial statements for nearly a decade. Meanwhile, in Washington, a federal judge is studying special prosecutor Jack Smith’s request to impose a partial gag order on the former president after prosecutors accused him of trying to poison the jury and intimidate witnesses.
These legal dramas are the prelude to four trials facing the former president, who denies having committed any crime, on a total of 91 criminal charges – in connection with his attempt to subvert the 2020 elections , his alleged mishandling of classified documents he had at Mar-a-Lago and about a hush money payment to an adult movie star before the 2016 election. The mere suggestion of criminal charges is enough to remove most politicians from office (although Democratic Senator Robert Menendez is fighting several calls to resign before his first court appearance in bribery case this Wednesday).
And yet not even the possibility that Trump, who has two impeachments, could become a convicted felon before the November 2024 election destroys his brand with Republican voters. Quite the opposite.
So why does Trump keep getting his way?
One of the reasons Trump is untouchable is that the Republican Party rarely pays for his behavior. Top officials are drawn to Trump’s massive support among his legendary voter base, and are often faced with the choice of condemning Trump or saving their careers. GOP leaders who refused to appease him—like former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, and now Utah Senator Mitt Romney—were kicked out of Congress or decided that running for office was no longer worth the vote. .
Trump’s cult of leadership has also attracted acolytes who poke fun at him and imitate him. Republicans like Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is a recent example. The former president’s political power within the Republican base makes its leaders reluctant to oppose him. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, for example, said after the January 6 attack on the Capitol by a Trump mob that the former president was responsible for the chaos. But days after his boss left the White House in disgrace, McCarthy flew to Florida to mend ties with Trump, who helped him win the House speakership in January but has now plagued him by inciting extremists. in the House.
Meanwhile, Trump’s personal magnetism has drawn many officials and political operatives into his orbit, even if the price for most of his inner circle is an indictment for his election meddling schemes and the destruction of their reputations. Consider former New York mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Mark Meadows.
The former president also successfully argued that he was blocking a conspiratorial government that would target his supporters if he agreed. “If they can do it to me, they can do it to you!” Trump wrote on Tuesday in a social media post that he condemned the verdict against him in the New York fraud case. This argument is so effective that the polls and fundraising of the former president seem to always speak after various accusations.
Most fundamentally, however, Trump has built a politically distrustful base of voters who initially saw him as an avatar of their hatred of the political, financial, media and judicial establishments that they considered indifferent or despised. Trump has wisely acted as an insurgent in his own administration, often undermining institutions that his voters do not trust. The result was that his followers swallowed all the bad behavior that followed, seeing him as a victim of institutionalized political persecution.