Why Donald Trump’s Bad Week Matters in the Ongoing Battle to Save American Democracy

Posted in: Politics

Last Thursday and Friday brought some really bad news for Donald Trump. On Thursday, Sidney Powell pled guilty to various charges arising from her participation in the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The next day, another of the co-conspirators, Kenneth Chesebro, also entered a guilty plea.

Along with their guilty pleas, Powell and Chesebro agreed to be cooperating witnesses against other defendants in Fani Willis’s Georgia RICO case. That prospect could be devastating for the multiply indicted former president and is a reminder of Donald Trump’s legal vulnerability and his inability to exercise the absolute control that he craves over legal and political processes.

Last week was not a good one in Trump world. Let’s start with Trump’s foot-in-mouth response to the devastating events of October 7 in Israel.

While President Biden expressed his unequivocal support for Israel and visited the country, Trump went out of his way to criticize its current government and its leadership and, at the same time, compliment the terrorist group Hezbollah, which threatens Israel from its stronghold in Lebanon.

As CBS News reported, during a political rally last Wednesday, Trump said that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu “‘let us down’ before the U.S. killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in 2020, and… [that] Israeli leaders need to ‘step up their game.’”

He criticized Netanyahu who, in Trump’s view, was “not prepared” for the surprise assault by Hamas. And the icing on the cake was his description of Hezbollah as “very smart.”

Add Hezbollah to Trump’s previously expressed admiration for people and groups who specialize in violence and brutality. In the past he has called Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, “Top of the line people, at the top of their game.”

Trump’s comments about the situation in Israel clearly annoyed even some of his loyal base and provided an opening for his Republican primary opponents to criticize him. CBS News notes that during a town hall for voters in Merrimack, New Hampshire, a voter said that while “‘there’s a lot of people that generally like Trump’s policies,’ they might not be ‘big fans’ of his behavior– and cited his criticism of Netanyahu.”

At that same event, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said. “To go out and just take potshots at Netanyahu in a time of war right now, I don’t see where that’s where that’s very productive.”

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was even more direct. Referring to Trump, Christie said, “He’s a fool…. Only a fool would make those kinds of comments. Only a fool would give comments that give aid and comfort to Israel’s adversary in this situation, and he always places it in the context of himself.”

Christie claimed, “This is someone who cares not about the American people, not about the people of Israel, but he cares about one person and one person only: The person he sees in the mirror when he wakes up in the morning. As a Republican Party, we cannot once again nominate a fool like this to be our nominee and get him anywhere near the presidency of the United States.”

How much traction such comments will get remains to be seen. But, for the moment at least, Trump put himself on the wrong side of a highly salient foreign policy issue.

He also may have put himself on the wrong side of the ongoing saga of Republican efforts in the House of Representatives to elect a Speaker.

Trump offered a full-throated endorsement Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a longtime ally and fellow election denier. His endorsement of Jordan was not surprising. In the past, he has repeatedly praised Jordan and, when Trump was president, he awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But, as last week unfolded, we learned that Trump’s endorsement could not seal the deal for Jordan, who had to endure several defeats before finally losing in his effort to become House Speaker. Some believe that Trump’s endorsement actually hurt Jordan’s chances.

As Former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) said, “I think the Trump endorsement hurt him because at the end of the day, he already had the firebrand caucus. Now, all of a sudden, you’re making, you know, Republican moderates in New York—there are 11 of them—nervous about, ‘Oh my goodness, I gotta defend this in my district? That we have a speaker who’s been endorsed by Trump, who’s not popular in my district?’ I think it complicates things actually for Jordan….”

Turning from the political to the legal arena, we see more setbacks for Donald Trump.

On Monday, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan granted Special Prosecutor Jack Smith’s request for a limited gag order in the election denialism case over which she is presiding in the District of Columbia. The next day she issued a written order and explanation of her decision.

She decided that “All interested parties in this matter, including the parties and their counsel, are prohibited from making any public statements, or directing others to make any public statements, that target (1) the Special Counsel prosecuting this case or his staff; (2) defense counsel or their staff; (3) any of this court’s staff or other supporting personnel; or (4) any reasonably foreseeable witness or the substance of their testimony.”

But she also singled out Trump and detailed his misbehavior. “Undisputed testimony cited by the government,” Chutkan said, “demonstrates that when Defendant has publicly attacked individuals, including on matters related to this case, those individuals are consequently threatened and harassed. Since his indictment, and even after the government filed the instant motion, Defendant has continued to make similar statements attacking individuals involved in the judicial process, including potential witnesses, prosecutors, and court staff. Defendant has made those statements to national audiences using language communicating not merely that he believes the process to be illegitimate, but also that particular individuals involved in it are liars, or ‘thugs,’ or deserve death.”

Chutkan concluded “that such statements pose a significant and immediate risk that (1) witnesses will be intimidated or otherwise unduly influenced by the prospect of being themselves targeted for harassment or threats; and (2) attorneys, public servants, and other court staff will themselves become targets for threats and harassment. And that risk is largely irreversible in the age of the Internet; once an individual is publicly targeted, even revoking the offending statement may not abate the subsequent threats, harassment, or other intimidating effects during the pretrial as well as trial stages of this case.”

Whether or not this stern rebuke helps or hurts Trump politically, it was a clear reminder to this would-be authoritarian that in a court of law, he is just another ordinary criminal defendant. That humbling reminder clearly infuriated Trump.

He received a similar rebuke when Judge Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over Trump’s New York civil fraud trial, told Trump to pipe down after the former president became agitated while a witness testified against him. Surely it was no fun for someone as histrionic and narcissistic as Trump to be brought to heel.

The final blow of Trump’s really bad week was delivered by Powell and Chesebro. What Dennis Aftergut and I wrote about the former applies to Chesebro as well. “Powell,” we said, “now gives … [Fani Willis] an eyewitness to the most serious of the alleged criminality of the Trump gang…. As other defendants follow Powell’s lead, it’s reasonable to expect a drip, drip, drip of information ferreted out by energetic reporters in the media about cooperators’ knowledge of Trump’s role in trying to overturn our democracy.”

And, we noted, “as that happens, it’s not inconceivable that even if Trump is never tried before November 2024, his prospects of winning the election will decline precipitously among independent voters.”

In the end, what was a bad week for Donald Trump was a good week for democracy and the rule of law in this country. And, in the ongoing struggle against authoritarianism, we can certainly use every one of those weeks that we can get.

Posted in: Politics

Tags: Donald Trump

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