Sunday, January 15, 2023


Last summer, The Washington Post's David Von Drehle told us that Donald Trump's retention of classified documents, even after they'd been subpoenaed by the government, was no big deal because, heck, Trump just likes showing off stuff:
When I interviewed candidate Trump in early 2016 aboard his private 757, the pile of disorganized paper on his desk made a striking contrast to the pristine white leather seats and gold-colored hardware. An even larger mess rode in the seat next to him — thousands of pages in all....

Trump did not read anything from the paper piles....

But if the mass of material was not to be read, what purpose did it serve?

It was a prop.... The mountain of paper showed how very busy and important its owner was.

This became clear as the candidate began rummaging through the pile for various proofs of his own fame and lovability. He dug down about three inches to unearth an 8-by-10-inch photograph of the late pop superstar Michael Jackson. “Do you know who this is?” he asked improbably. “A very good friend of mine,” he answered himself.

Later, he reenacted the same performance with a photograph of Muhammad Ali. Still later, a picture of boxing promoter Don King. The uproar of the day had to do with Trump’s endorsement from Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke — and whaddaya know: So many very good Black friends of The Donald just happened to surface from the pile.
As I wrote at the time:
Von Drehle is talking about classified documents, many of them extraordinarily sensitive, and is saying, "Hey, don't worry -- Trump just likes to show people stuff to impress them." This is not stuff we want him to show people -- not Russian or Saudi officials and not blue-haired Mar-a-Lago members (or shady people who want you to believe they're Mar-a-Lago members).

If you tell me that the primary reason Trump took the documents was to show them to people who shouldn't see them, that's not reassuring.
Now Von Drehle sees Joe Biden's document problem and breathes a sigh of relief: Biden kept classified documents too! That means it's unlikely that either Trump or Biden will be prosecuted for document retention! Phew!

It's obvious why Von Drehle is giddy at the prospect that the document case against Trump might collapse now: He doesn't like the fact that those icky liberals want Trump prosecuted.
For the millions of Americans with a deep-down feeling that Trump is guilty of many things and that the heavens cry out for some justice, somewhere, sometime — who have cheered the pursuit from Russia-gate through the porn-star hush money, the rape allegation, the Ukrainian phone call, the second impeachment, the trial of Allen Weisselberg, the corporate and personal tax returns, and the attempts to steal an election — for all those legions who thought finally, Trump was caught dead to rights, this may be a tough pill to swallow.
But Von Drehle solemnly insists that prosecuting Trump for this would be Bad For America:
Politically, Trump is a dead man walking. He has lost the ability to drive the news cycle. His outlandish social media posts fall as silently as unheard forest trees. His declaration of his next campaign produced a yawn worthy of another run by Ralph Nader....

If Trump is to come back from his self-made political disaster, he must have publicity to sustain him....

To be indicted and hauled into court for history’s most heavily publicized trial would invigorate Trump, and the spectacle would galvanize his dwindling base of support.
Is Trump really a "dead man walking"? He's beating Ron DeSantis by 10 points in 2024 primary polling that includes multiple candidates. He trails Joe Biden by in general election polling by one and a half points, after winning the Electoral College in 2016 while losing the popular vote by more than two points. In the most recent New York Times focus group, ten of the twelve Republican participants are glad Trump is running again. (Believe me, all twelve will vote for him again if he's the nominee.)

And if we shouldn't prosecute him for keeping classified documents because that will only give him publicity, shouldn't that apply to everything he's done? Financial fraud? Election fraud? Inciting the January 6 riot? (I assume Von Drehle would say we shouldn't prosecute Trump for anything, ever.)

Meanwhile, what's the real voter response to Trump's legal troubles? A judge just unsealed the transcript of Trump's deposition in a lawsuit by E. Jean Carroll, who says Trump raped her in the 1990s. That didn't become a huge news story. There's no evidence that it's rallying Trump's supporters (who think he's persecuted no matter what is or isn't happening to him).

Did the efforts of the January 6 committee "invigorate Trump"? His poll numbers are down a bit since it first convened. Maybe bad publicity is actually bad for him.

Let's think about another bloated loudmouth. Should the Sandy Hook families not have sued Alex Jones? He seems to thrive on publicity too. Was it a bad thing that they held him accountable for calling them liars and fakes after their children were brutally murdered? Should they have let him get away with slandering them and compounding their misery out of the fear that, for Jones, there's no such thing as bad publicity?

It never occurs to Von Drehle that Trump's recent poll slippage might be in part because the law is after him. Middle-of-the-road voters might now be more solidly opposed to him. Even some Republican fans now seem to think he doesn't stand a chance in the general election because he infuriates the rest of us. As a participant in that Times focus group says,
I do believe that with the hatred of Trump, they would elect anyone. I think if Bozo the Clown ran against Trump, a Democrat would vote for Bozo because it’s anybody but him.
So if Trump gets away with deliberately and defiantly retaining classified documents because Biden inadvertently kept sone too, we shouldn't be pleased. And let's not forget why the two presidents differ. As Jonathan Chait writes,
... Trump is not potentially facing charges because he improperly took classified documents. It’s because when the government found out about the documents, he refused to give them back and — allegedly — took steps to hide them from the FBI. This is not a small twist on the same crime. It is the crime.
Yup. And while he'll probably get away with it, he shouldn't.

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