Tuesday, November 07, 2023


The third Republican presidential debate will take place tomorrow night. Five candidates will participate. Donald Trump won't be one of them. He also didn't made an appearance at either of the first two debates.

But Republican voters don't care -- he's still leading in all the primary polls, and yesterday (because he had no choice) he showed up for a different kind of debate:
Testimony by Donald Trump in a civil fraud trial Monday quickly descended into bitter sniping as Trump’s discursive answers and outbursts prompted the judge to repeatedly admonish him.

During his four hours on the witness stand, the former president lost his temper and attacked the judge, railing against the person who will decide the fate of his business empire and suggesting one of his pretrial rulings was “very stupid.” Trump continually flouted the judge’s instructions to provide succinct and direct answers to questions, instead offering much of the political animus Trump typically deploys on the campaign trail.

“It’s a terrible thing you’ve done. You know nothing about me,” Trump said to Justice Arthur Engoron during one verbal strike from the witness stand. “You believe that political hack back there,” he added, looking toward New York Attorney General Tish James, who brought the $250 million civil fraud case against Trump, his adult sons and officers in the Trump Organization.
To the Republican base, this was, in effect, a general-election debate. Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media have conditioned GOP voters to believe that Trump's enemy, and the enemy of all True Patriots, is a hydra-headed, many-tentacled beast that goes by various names: the Democrat Party, the Uniparty, the Deep State, the Regime. Judge Arthur Engoron = New York attorney general Tish James = President Biden = the mainstream media = a bunch of kids in black masks torching a dumpster in Portland = ... well, you get the idea. It's all one demon to be slain. And yesterday Trump took the demon on.

From a normal person's point of view, Trump didn't do himself any favors yesterday -- this is a bench trial, which means that the judge Trump was trying to offend will decide how large a penalty he'll pay -- but Trump is like the wiseass in class who continues to verbally attack the teacher even though he knows he's certain to be suspended or even expelled for it, because he knows how much his classmates are enjoying his insolence and their approval is like a drug for him. Trump may also be trying to generate grounds for an appeal, as Rolling Stone's Adam Rawnsley and Asawin Suebsaeng have noted:
... several Trump attorneys and other key allies have advised him that the more the New York judge supposedly “overreacts” — including perhaps remanding Trump — the better their case for an appeal will be.

“I call it the Chicago 7 disruption strategy,” Alan Dershowitz, the celebrity lawyer who defended then-President Trump during his first impeachment, tells Rolling Stone.

“When a defendant honestly believes he can’t possibly get a fair trial from the judge, one of the tactics is to antagonize the judge to a point of causing reversible errors,” Dershowitz says. “That is what happened in the Chicago 7 case, and I was one of the lawyers on the appeal in that case. Abbie Hoffman provoked Judge Hoffman to such a degree that the judge made mistake after mistake. And courts of appeal often reverse convictions or verdicts when the judge has made serious errors.”
But Trump's principal strategy seems to be rallying his fans -- and it has been partly successful. Why do you think he hasn't been tossed in jail for any of his attempts to intimidate key figures in his various cases? It's fear of a backlash from Trump voters. Imagine if, say, Robert Menendez or George Santos behaved the way Trump has been behaving, even after several warnings. There'd be no outcry if jail time were ordered. But Trump rallies the mob in a way that Menendez or Santos couldn't.

I keep wondering whether we could have rid ourselves of Trump if all his legal antagonists had chosen to drop their cases. I know what you're thinking: "But ... but ... justice!" Yes, but rich assholes get away with crimes and torts all the time. Trump might not have the commanding lead he has in GOP primary polls if he didn't have prosecutors and judges as enemies, and he might not have been as desperate to win. Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley might be neck-and-neck with him now -- or he might not have felt the need to run.

Here, according to Byron York, is how this all looks to Republican voters:
... four indictments, plus a lawsuit in New York designed to destroy him financially, plus lawsuits across the country intended to remove his name from the 2024 ballot — all pushed by local elected Democrats, Democratic activists, or the current Democratic administration — have significantly hardened the determination of some Trump supporters to keep supporting him. So, when news events occur and some less-committed voters move around, the core of Trump supporters stays rock solid. There are not enough of them to elect Trump president, but they are the foundation upon which he has built his campaign.
I think it's worse than that: I think Republican voters who had doubts about Trump have now moved into the Trump camp because of all these legal cases. And -- so far, at least -- not enough general-election voters have moved out of his camp as a result, although that might happen eventually:
For Donald J. Trump, a new set of New York Times/Siena College polls captures a stunning, seemingly contradictory picture....

The polls found that ... Mr. Trump ... leads Mr. Biden by between 4 and 10 percentage points in five of the six battleground states surveyed....

[But if] the former president is convicted and sentenced ... around 6 percent of voters across Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin say they would switch their votes to Mr. Biden. That would be enough, potentially, to decide the election.
But for now, his goal is to rally the base, try to get elected, and hope he can make all his legal troubles go away as president. Riling up the base is how hopes to win the election. The message is the same as it's always been: "He fights." He's clearly fighting for himself, not for ordinary citizens, but Republican voters don't care. They just want him to show that he hates the people they hate and can make them angry. The legal pursuit of Trump has given him plenty of opportunities to deliver.

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