Punishing a vanquished political opponent is standard practice in certain less civilized parts of the world. For example, in Pakistan, at least seven former Prime Ministers have been arrested and tried by courts since the country was created in 1947.
In Kenya, it was just days ago that the Senate Minority Leader and National Assembly Minority Leader were taken into police custody. As leaders of the opposition, they were playing a key role in the organization of protests against the high cost of living. They now stand behind bars.
Only two years ago, Mali’s transitional president and prime minister were arrested and held by military officers in the midst of an attempted transition to citizen rule after a military coup. Military leaders preferred to keep power, and what better way than to simply detain those who could take that power from them?
Jacob Zuma served as the President of South Africa from 2009 to 2018 and was well-known as a freedom fighter who battled the apartheid regime alongside Nelson Mandela. In July 2021, he began serving a 15-month prison sentence for failing to appear before a commission that had accused him of corruption during his time as leader.
The list goes on. Honduras, Guatemala, Peru and more all have leaders who, in their post Presidential years, are charged with criminal activity.
In the United States, however, we have traditionally served as a beacon of citizen selection of leadership. Our Presidents, when ending their term, regardless of whether by term limits or by defeat at the ballot box, have always participated in the peaceful transition of power and then usually settled into a role as a respected, though retired, statesman. Some were loved. Some not so much, but none, not even Nixon, were arrested or held out for perpetual media beatings.
Nothing is ever that easy when Donald Trump is involved.
In 2016 Donald Trump surprised much of America and the world by beating Hillary Clinton and becoming President of the United States. In 2020 however, a majority of the voters rejected Trump’s reelection. Trump immediately claimed wrongdoing, fraud and voter irregularities, though two years later, he has yet to provide meaningful evidence of such.
Trump has expressed interest in returning to The White House and has already declared his candidacy for 2024. To say his opponents have had a negative reaction to this would be an understatement.
Trump derangement syndrome (TDS) is real. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Don’t get me wrong, Trump is loud, brash, selfish, rude and completely self-centered. It’s not difficult to understand why some people don’t like him. TDS, however, is something much richer than dislike. TDS is demonstrated when people merely see Trump, his image, a brief video clip or read one of his tweets and have an irrationally large reaction. TDS makes the average Trump hater react with the same level of rational thinking that a spouse has in the midst of a marital screaming match on a couple’s worst day.
His photo in a magazine at the grocery check-out counter can unleash a loud tirade. Friends of forty years will end a friendship because an old pal liked an economic plan or judicial choice of Trump. Some in the minority community are frozen with fear if Trump’s image flickers on the TV screen, convinced that not only is he a racist, but his recorded image somehow offers the potential of imminent harm. None of the above are rational, yet all are commonplace.
Last week the former President announced he expected to be indicted and arrested. His alleged misdeed? He provided cash in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement to a woman he allegedly had an extra-marital encounter. Apparently, the dollar amount was far smaller than the $850,000 Bill Clinton gave to Paula Jones, but somehow the violation was so large it required the full attention of the Manhattan DA.
I won’t weigh the merits of the case here. The court system can hash that out if it gets that far. The real question is whether the investigations and attacks on former President Trump are legitimate or are they merely taxpayer-funded examples of TDS.
The FBI raided the 45th President of the United States’ home in search of sensitive files. Threats of an indictment continue to hang as a result, complicated somewhat by the fact Joe Biden had top secret materials for years in his garage, Hillary Clinton had reams of classified materials digitally stored in unsafe and illegal places, and even former Vice President Mike Pence discovered he had a small cache of classified files. Was the raid on Trump different than how they treated all the others? Absolutely.
In Georgia, they continue to investigate whether Trump tried to tamper with the outcome of the 2020 election by calling election officials and demanding certain steps be taken to assure an accurate outcome. Was it an ill-advised call? It certainly was. Was it criminal activity or an attempt at stealing the election? Highly doubtful.
The January 6th committee, a Congressional group that refused to let Republicans choose their own members on their committee, but swore their efforts were non-partisan, made recommendations that Trump should be criminally charged for his alleged role in the January 6, 2020 riots at the Capitol. Fact-based or TDS? You make the call.
Are all these investigations due to TDS? Maybe, but there is another possibility.
The investigation by the Manhattan DA, in particular, could be a stroke of political genius by the Democrats.
Let’s be perfectly clear. Donald Trump cannot and will not be elected President of the United States again. He has a clear base within the Republican Party that loves him, perhaps 20% of registered, active-voting Republicans. He also has a majority of the GOP who do not want him to be the party’s nominee. Those outside of his party despise him.
To be successful in politics, you must build coalitions. Oddly, Trump is spending much of his early 2024 campaign effort tearing down his own party and potential supporters. The list of those he has railed at includes Mitch McConnell, his party’s leader in the US Senate and the architect of Trump getting so many federal judges approved. Trump hates him. Trump has also lashed out at Christian ministers and leaders, saying they are disloyal to him. He has had bad things to say about the men who served as his Vice President, Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. There is a pattern here. Everyone is wrong except Trump, at least in his mind.
Between his hostile outbursts and his pending legal woes, political fundraisers have largely abandoned the former President.
The mainstream media continues to hate (and hate is the right word) Trump and makes a conscious effort to make sure every item ever reported about him is done so in a negative light.
None of this adds up to political victory. It may make some headlines and earn some online clicks, but as an election night winner, Trump will always be a one-hit-wonder.
Why then are the Manhattan DA and others like him spending time, tax dollars and effort trying to bring down Donald Trump? If he can’t possibly win again, surely pure politics can’t be the answer.
Or can it?
Insiders in Washington don’t see Donald Trump as the leader of the Republican Party. His candidates performed poorly in 2022. He performed poorly in 2020. The party itself doesn’t seek his approval on issues. Elected officials are trying hard to move on from him and his perpetual big top. GOP fundraisers are working diligently to determine who is the best bet for 2024, and Trump is not on their radar.
Despite all of that, much of the mainstream media continues to focus on Trump and often declares him as the head of the Republican Party. It could be because he generates attention for their broadcast/podcast or print story. It could be because they don’t actually know what’s going on in the GOP.
Or it could be political genius being demonstrated by the Manhattan DA and a compliant mainstream media.
By indicting Donald Trump, he becomes the top news story. Again. Predictably, Trump will spout off nonsense and foolishness in reaction. Despite the J6 stories, Trump’s first reaction was to demand via social media that people “rise up” and fight back. Should this be interpreted as him again encouraging violent mobs to try and take the government? Probably not, yet it surely will be.
The genius of putting Donald Trump back on the front page of every website and newspaper is that most Americans aren’t particularly familiar with Senator Tim Scott, Ambassador Nicki Haley, Governor Ron DeSantis or Secretary Mike Pompeo. By putting Trump and a porn star back at the top of the news cycle, it makes the GOP seem like it simply continues to be Trump’s circus. To the average American that casually follows the news, the Republican input every day will be Trump and Stormy Daniels, not the diplomatic skills or expertise of Pompeo.
Trump cannot and will not win in 2024. By keeping him at the top of the news for alleged sordid behavior, however, Democrats hope to cripple the Republican Party as a whole. Considering Trump’s modus operandi any time he is attacked, their plan just may work.
The intended narration is as follows:
Who is the GOP? Donald Trump.
Who is Donald Trump? He is a racist criminal cad that hung out with porn stars.
Therefore, the GOP must be racist, misogynist and corrupt.
It is poppycock, of course, but it is amazing how a narrative, when repeated, is accepted.
• Tim Constantine is a columnist with The Washington Times.
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