Donald Trump or, as he would have it, President Trump, is once again on the campaign trail after playing hide-and-seek for a few weeks. What prompted him to emerge into the light of day is obvious enough: the Feds have indicted him on 37 counts, all felonies, involving his hoarding of government documents, many of them classified, at Mar-A-Lago in Florida.
After his arraignment, Trump held a rally-cum-press-conference in which, to no one’s surprise, he declared the indictment a witch hunt. Since then, he has granted a number of interviews to pummel, Joe-Palooka-like, his ever-growing list of enemies: Ron “DeSanctimonious” (DeSantis), Bill Barr, “Ada” (Asa) Hutchinson, Mike Pence, Chris Christie—anyone who doesn’t fall into line and declare him the automatic Republican nominee. By his own reckoning, he leads the field by “60 points” even though RealClear Politics averages his leads as nearer 30 points. The Big Orange does tend to exaggerate his appeal; like Plato’s tyrant, he’s an erotic man who must be loved by everyone, so a 30-point spread just won’t cut it.
Nevertheless, 30 points is impressive, and Trump remains, as Ralph Reed put it recently, a “phenomenon.” Reed, who has not endorsed any candidate, is chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition where Trump made (as of this writing) his latest big appearance. What he had to say to the gathering of evangelicals was not altogether surprising, but it deserves some attention.
First, he floated the idea of a national abortion ban. Now, I’m all for such a ban, but I think it’s worth observing that no such thing has ever existed in our country’s. Legalized abortion was the law of the land for fifty years thanks to Roe vs. Wade, until the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling brought that shameful era to an end. Pro-lifers had to work and wait a long time to see that day come. I doubt the pro-abortion lobby, led by a dozen or more attorneys general from blue states, would waste any time to challenge a national ban. And they’d win. The only way of getting an iron-clad abortion ban is by constitutional amendment, and as much as I hate to tell the denizens of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Does Trump grasp this hard, plain reality? Who knows? One thing he surely felt, right to his marrow, is that the Faith and Freedom Coalition would like the idea, as, indeed, they did. But it’s fair to point out that the announcement was damage control for Trump whose rather lukewarm response to Dobbs (he insisted it hurt Republicans) threatened to clamp the lid on evangelicals’ Trumpomania.
Will he pursue the abortion ban if he gets back in the oval office? Or will that promise go the same way as “Put her [Hillary] in jail” and “build the wall and make Mexico pay for it”? Trump may not have a clue. What he does realize is that he can tout his record of having appointed three pro-life justices to the court that made Roe’s demise possible. There’s no denying that, but I wonder how many of those appointments—particularly in the selection process—were the former president’s doing. A lot of credit goes to the Federalist Society and then-Vice President Mike Pence. However, giving credit where credit is due was never one of Trump’s strong points except when he gives it to himself.
Besides the abortion ban, Trump had the indictment on his mind. “My numbers went up,” he enthused. (Perhaps he should get indicted every month, but then, that’s close to what’s happened.) As for his “numbers,” there’s some truth in his claim; his polling on the RCP average did go up three or four points but then dropped to roughly where it had been before the indictment was unsealed. Trump forgot to mention that.
Yet the strangest thing of all at the conference was Trump’s insistence that he is “being indicted for you [his voters],” a kind of substitutionary punishment. It almost seems as if Trump views himself as a mini-Christ figure—or since it’s Trump, not so mini. Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t taken boxes of government documents, stored them in my basement, shown some extremely sensitive classified maps to journalists, and then stonewalled agents from the National Archives and Records Administration attempting to retrieve them. If Trump’s adoring fans are indicted by proxy and want to bear the brunt of the law next August when the judge reads the verdict, more power to them. But count me out.
All told, Donald Trump is truly a phenomenon, a paragon of shameless audacity and, if the charges against him are proven, mendacity. Like the gangsters of the thirties, he’ll always have his fans, but let’s just hope there aren’t too many of them when the bullets start flying.