At the outset of his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump famously said, “I could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters.” Today, after being found liable in a civil suit for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll, Trump can say, “I can beat a rape charge and even sustain conviction of a witch-hunt phoney hoax sexual assault charge on Fifth Avenue, and not lose any voters.”
Carroll is very courageous. We know from experience here, with Jarryd Hayne’s case and Brittany Higgins’ aborted trial, how searing and arduous it is for women to obtain a conviction after alleging that they were raped. That a jury substantially believed Carroll about events she related from 30 years ago is proof that justice can prevail.
Trump, the former president who was impeached twice, and who is facing further criminal proceedings from New York to Georgia to Washington DC on charges of corrupting political and electoral processes, is not only still in the game to return as the Republican presidential nominee – but is the frontrunner today. It is astonishing.
But Trump is somehow able to defy political gravity that would claim other mortals. No chief executive of a listed company in the United States can keep his job if even an accusation of sexual impropriety is made. Just two weeks ago, the head of NBC Universal was forced to resign for an “inappropriate relationship” with a woman in the company. Trump, the former president who was impeached twice, and who is facing further criminal proceedings from New York to Georgia to Washington DC on charges of corrupting political and electoral processes, is not only still in the game to return as the Republican presidential nominee – but is the frontrunner today. It is astonishing.
Trump has one playbook: deny, defame, discredit. Never admit, never concede, never retreat. Always appeal. Right after the verdict, Trump posted that the court proceedings were a “disgrace” and a “witch-hunt” comprised of Democratic Party justice from Democratic prosecutors and a Democratic judge in the Democratic city of New York. America’s politics are so infested with rancid hyper partisanship that even deeply scarred candidates for the House and Senate who lie about their careers or who are accused of sexual assault are not denied a place on the ballot by Republican voters.
This is the political currency Trump has minted and spends with abandon to keep control and to keep winning. What Trump is in jeopardy of losing, however, is his ability to win back independent voters – the equivalent of teal voters in Australia – in the suburbs around major cities across the country. Moderate voters are absorbing the Carroll judgment. Together with Trump’s extremism on guns, abortion rights and culture war issues, swing states and swing House and Senate seats come into play for the Democrats.
Trump’s Republican opponents for the presidential nomination are dying to beat him but, so far, they are unwilling to decisively break with him – because they could lose support from the Trump base if they do. As Peggy Noonan, one of Ronald Reagan’s most gifted advisers and writers, wrote last week: “He’s never been the focus, onstage, of a serious, capable, sustained assault on policy or comportment. No one on his side has ever challenged him to his face on how and why he failed as president. No one knows if he could take it. He doesn’t know. To defeat Mr Trump, you have to attack him. But here, they say, is the problem: If you attack Mr Trump, his base will never forgive you.”
Trump’s Republican opponents for the presidential nomination are dying to beat him but, so far, they are unwilling to decisively break with him – because they could lose support from the Trump base if they do.
Trump leads his principal opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, 51 to 25 per cent. If DeSantis or anyone else wants to take the Republican nomination away from Trump, they will have to take him down. They will have to convince Republican voters in the primaries next year that Trump is unfit to be president, that Trump will lose to Biden and that Trump will keep the Republicans from winning full control of Congress – which is what Trump failed to do in 2018, 2020 and 2022.
President Joe Biden is running for re-election for two principal reasons: to “finish the job” he started in his first term of rebuilding America and delivering jobs and more economic security, and defeating Trump again to preserve America’s democracy.
Biden believes he can do it. But can he? A shock Washington Post – ABC News poll last weekend sent tremors through the Democrats. Trump is leading Biden 47 to 42 per cent. Forty-four per cent of US adults say they will definitely or probably vote for Trump; only 38 per cent for Biden. Only 32 per cent think Biden has the mental sharpness, at age 80, to do the job. Fifty-four per cent think Trump, at 76, is able. Nearly 60 per cent of Democratic-leaning voters wish another person was the nominee. Biden has an approval rating of just 36 per cent – the lowest of his presidency.
Today’s verdict in New York nevertheless does open the character issue on Trump once again. Together with any further indictments in the weeks ahead, this will crystallise the issue of whether Trump can be a full-time president or a full-time defendant.
Today, Trump feels he can stroll down Fifth Avenue, saunter into Bergdorf Goodman, and say they will be happy to have such a famous customer shopping again in their store.
And the media will be all over it.