Is this the end of our national Trump bender? Yeah, we've heard that one before
Think back. We've been here before. In 2016, there was the famous "Access Hollywood" tape, when Trump bragged about his tendency to "grab'em by the pussy." Then WikiLeaks moved in to save him with the first of its dumps of hacked Democratic Party emails, these from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Two days later, during a debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump was asked whether what he had talked about on the tape amounted to sexual assault. He shrugged off the question, calling his statements nothing more than "locker-room talk" and, amazingly, admitting, "I'm not proud of it." It was over. He was elected president a month later.
Then came the revelation by FBI Director James Comey in March of 2017 before the House Intelligence Committee that Trump and his campaign had been the subject of an FBI investigation since the previous July. Half the oxygen immediately got sucked out of the hearing room, and there were reports that nearly a tenth of the air in Washington proper had left, too. A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the links between Trump, his campaign and the Russians. Then came leak after leak after leak, all of which Trump seemed to surf like perfect waves. The report by special counsel Robert Mueller was filled with evidence of obstruction of justice by Trump, but found no "collusion" – legally speaking, a meaningless term – between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and the story died right there.
Just four months later, a transcript of a telephone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was released, revealing in no uncertain terms that Trump had attempted to extort Zelenskyy into helping him with a phony investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. Another Washington lid blew into the skies. Just two months after that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated an inquiry into impeaching Trump. A month later, three House committees held hearings about Trump's attempts to get Zelenskyy to aid his re-election campaign. Just over a month after that, on Nov. 13, the House of Representatives began impeachment hearings. On Dec. 10, the House Judiciary Committee voted two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power, the other for obstructing Congress. A week later, the House voted, mostly along party lines, to impeach Trump. In January of 2020, the Senate began the impeachment trial of Trump. On Feb. 5, the Senate acquitted Trump.
Dodged another one, you figured — but it wasn't over. Trump instigated the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and after he had left office, the House again voted to impeach him, this time for "incitement of insurrection against the U.S. Government." The Senate in turn voted 57-43 to convict Trump of inciting insurrection, falling 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution.
Talk about dodging bullets! Donald Trump is the American political tap-dancer of all time. Not only as a political figure, but as a businessman, Trump has had more lives than nine cats.
And now the midterm elections have failed to provide the red wave many pundits had predicted for the Republican Party. At this writing, control of both the House and the Senate is still up for grabs, and you-know-who is being blamed for the poor performance of Republican candidates in almost every state that doesn't start with "Fl" and end with "a." Trump-endorsed candidates went down in battleground contests for the Senate and governorships. Election-denying Trump-endorsed candidates for statewide offices like secretary of state and attorney general lost in multiple states. At least one state house was flipped from Republican to Democratic control, and Democrats held control of several other state governments with many candidates either endorsed by Trump or hewing closely to his election lies losing their races.
I have officially lost count of the number of stories I've seen with titles like "Conservatism Inc. is breaking up with Trump — again," and, in my own state, "It's time for him to retire: Some Pa. Republicans want to push Trump aside after their election losses." Another popular headline, encompassing not just Trump but House Minority Leader (and aspiring House Speaker) Kevin McCarthy, has "the knives are out" for its punchline. And then there are the stories trumpeting (intentional pun) stuff like "Trump's midterm meltdown is in full swing" and "Facing GOP blame for midterms, Trump pushes 'stable genius' line." Rupert Murdoch's New York Post broke with Trump with the headline, "Humpty Trumpty." Even the Wall Street Journal (Murdoch's upper-class rag) weighed in, calling him the midterms' "biggest loser."
There are an equivalent number of stories lauding the second coming of Ron "God chose me" DeSantis as the great Florida Man Hope of the Republican Party. DeSantis, educated at Yale and Harvard, is said to be a culture warrior in Trump's image, but smarter. His symbolic war with the Walt Disney Company for being "woke" is somehow considered "courageous." So is his "don't say gay" nonsense and the rest of his culture war pandering.
Trump, blamed for midterm losses by nearly every establishment figure in his party, has flipped the script and placed the blame on his eternal nemesis, Mitch McConnell, along with — get this — that piece of fluffy fleece in a royal blue vest, Glenn Youngkin! The only person who believes Youngkin stands a chance at the Republican nomination in 2024 besides Trump is Youngkin himself … and possibly his kids.
Haven't we been here before? The last time, it was Ted Cruz (Harvard, Princeton) who was the Great Cowboy Hope of the anti-Trumpers in the Republican Party. Or was it Marco Rubio? Rick Santorum? Chris Christie? I forget. It was one of them, or some combination of them, who was going to save the party from Trump, who was, you know, accused of sexual harassment and assault and extramarital affairs and who knows what else.
And now here we go again. This time Trump is damaged goods because he is under investigation in I-don't-know-how-many-jurisdictions, for committing I-don't-know-how-many-crimes. Yes indeed, he is facing likely indictment by the feds on multiple counts of conspiring to interfere with a legitimate government function (certification of electoral ballots) and mishandling of sensitive national security information (the hundreds of secret and top-secret documents he removed from the White House and kept in a basement storage room at Mar-a-Lago.)
And then there is the grand jury in Georgia looking into Trump's phone call with Brad Raffensperger, when he asked the Georgia secretary of state to "find" enough votes for him to be declared winner in the state. Seemingly half the people who knew Trump or worked for him in the White House or served at one time or another as his attorney have testified before the Georgia grand jury, so that investigation can reasonably be assumed to be going somewhere that is not good for the former president.
But what does all this amount to in the end? Looking back at Trump's tap-dancing around, through, over and under previous controversies, I am led to the conclusion that Trump will once again exchange his tap shoes for skates and, yes, skate.
One of the major problems this country has with Donald Trump is that despite how repellent he is, Trump is as riveting as a gruesome car wreck. The amount of trouble he gets himself into is so unbelievable, it's fascinating. How he screws up stuff like blackmailing a foreign president by having White House staffers listening in on the call is jaw-dropping. The legal problems all this stuff causes him are as complex as they are heinous. The court orders he manages to get issued on his behalf, like the appointment of a special master to review the Mar-a-Lago documents, are flabbergasting. The appeals of those orders by the Department of Justice are incredible. Even Trump's tussles with his many, many lawyers are fascinating, as is the way he has managed to get the Republican National Committee and one of his super PACs to pay his legal bills. He is a past master at laying off his debts as well as his moral responsibilities.
His diabolical slipperiness does more than keep him in the news and in the public eye. Nearly everything surrounding the man is grimly hypnotic. I've been covering politics for just over 50 years, and I cannot recall another American politician who has proved more spellbinding in the way he lives his personal and public life, not to mention the way he has sold himself, with his New York accent, multiple ex-wives and mistresses, business scandals and all the rest of it to the American public, or to 74 million members of it, anyway.
Will Trump be able to keep all his balls of grift, grab and go in the air? It's time for me to deliver the old chestnut that only time will tell, but my instinct tells me to add this: He may be on the canvas for the moment, but he'll be up at the eight-count, just like he has so many times before.
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