The Trump Trap
The former president asks his supporters to cross the Rubicon, again.
In fire protection, an “accelerant” is a substance used by an arsonist to increase the spread of a conflagration. Donald Trump is, in effect, a political accelerant who reliably enhances the spread of whatever fires his enemies set. All they have to do is jostle the former president like a can of kerosene and watch the flames consume the movement that put him in the White House as he sputters.
So, it was no surprise when, on March 18, Trump said he expected to be arrested next week and, with the predictability of a timepiece, called on his supporters to throw themselves into the fire. “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” Trump wrote on Truth Social today. If that wasn’t clear enough, Trump added in another post later: “THEY’RE KILLING OUR NATION AS WE SIT BACK & WATCH. WE MUST SAVE AMERICA!PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
All this began with an unforced error that created a liability: Trump paid porn star Stormy Daniels hush money after allegedly having an affair with her. It isn’t hard for most people to avoid this sort of trouble. Not for Trump, of course. But more importantly now, Trump is encouraging his supporters to take his unforced error and turn it into another: protests that could land more of his people in jail and empower the powers that be. The stage has thus been set for another Jan. 6 scenario—the last trap Trump walked his base into.
Indeed, the parallels are striking.
In the final weeks of 2020, a crack team of about a dozen veteran investigators from Berkeley Research Group hired by the Trump campaign worked to prove the election had been stolen. Four people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post that the “areas examined were voter machine malfunctions, instances of dead people voting and any evidence that could help Trump show he won.”
I wrote about some of these things in an article Trump shared on Twitter.
“They looked at everything: change of addresses, illegal immigrants, ballot harvesting, people voting twice, machines being tampered with, ballots that were sent to vacant addresses that were returned and voted,” said a person, describing private research and meetings. “Literally anything you could think of. Voter turnout anomalies, date of birth anomalies, whether dead people voted. If there was anything under the sun that could be thought of, they looked at it.”
The team did, in fact, find voting anomalies, irregularities in data patterns, and instances of potential breaking or skirting of the law. But they did not find enough to conclude these things swung the election. “It was nowhere close enough to what they wanted to prove, and it actually went in both directions,” a person familiar with the findings told the Post, indicating they also found instances where errors, omissions, and irregularities went in Trump’s favor.
To be sure, the Democratic Party did play dirty, as Time admitted in a story about the “shadow effort” of “an unprecedented scale” to do just enough “fortifying” during the 2020 election to defeat Trump. But that is just to say they cheated, fair and square.
The Trump campaign did not take the Berkeley Research Group’s findings well, even though some team members had asked for a sober analysis. The report was buried, kept from the courts and Trump’s supporters. According to the Post, the Berkeley research was conducted through a subsidiary company called East Bay Dispute & Advisory LLC. Federal Election Commission filings show the Trump campaign paid East Bay Dispute & Advisory over $620,000 at the end of 2020.
Weeks later, Trump would lead his base to Washington, encouraging them to march on the Capitol and into a trap set by his enemies. Though his team has worked hard to memory-hole the facts, Trump called the National Guard quicker on his own supporters than he did George Floyd rioters in 2020. He excoriated them following day in a statement:
The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engage in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay.
Those “demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol” were only in D.C. because of him, including Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter shot dead by police, whose name Trump did not utter until well after Jan. 6.
In the end, the results of the 2020 election remained the same, and that incident gave rise to an empowered security state, which finally found a pretext to reorient the War on Terrorism to domestic politics. As Talleyrand said, “It is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.”
Now it seems like it could all happen again, this time due to Trump’s legal troubles—or rather, his accelerant-like behavior in combination with them. And I am less certain than others that this is about stopping him from running for president because he might be the only person who could lose to Joe Biden.
On the one hand, the perceived martyring of Trump could, in theory, garner sympathy for him, thus helping Trump more than hurting him, especially if he evades jail. But on the other hand, martyrs do not call on their supporters to take their place on the gallows, which is what Trump did on Jan. 6 and what he is doing today. For all the comparisons of him to a strongman, Trump, in reality, is a Caesar who asks others to cross the Rubicon for him.
I have no idea if there will be demonstrations that land his supporters in prison. But people should not heed this clarion call. Just look at those currently sitting in jail for their involvement in Jan. 6 if you want to know what the wages of “loyalty” are to Trump.
Politico and other outlets reported that Trump considered a blanket pardon for them while still in office. A White House staffer told me that one proposed model would have been based on President Jimmy Carter’s pardon for hundreds of thousands of draft dodgers. But Trump didn’t pull the trigger.
Instead, pardons went to people like Salomon Melgen, a Democrat megadonor and eye doctor who defrauded Medicare and other insurers for millions by subjecting elderly patients to unnecessary and painful treatments. Melgen was released from prison early on Jan. 20, 2021.
Four days after Melgen walked free, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the number of arrests of individuals in connection with Jan. 6 had reached 500. Trump was far more preoccupied with trying to trademark “Rigged Election” as a fundraising gimmick—not that the money would have gone toward anything good.
It’s hard to know for certain how much Trump has actually helped Jan. 6 people financially. The estimates range from none to embarrassingly little compared to how much money he has raised on their plight, which should disabuse people of the idea that there is any principle in “loyalty” as Trump understands the term.
Right now, a part of the right has hitched its wagon to Trump not because he is effective, loyal, or ruthless—but because he makes the left so angry, and, therefore, that must be good. But that is a terrible rationale. Trump is like a bullfighter who drapes the muleta over the head of an adoring grandma only to step out of the way and let the beast gore her, then demand the audience throw roses at his feet. Maybe he gets nicked. But it is his fans who get the horns.
There is an understandable, almost Pavlovian tendency on the right to do and say certain things in response to things the left does and says. But the right must break that conditioning to understand why it is always on the back foot, clumsily reacting to its opponents’ moves—why it says, “Lock her up,” while they lock us up.
Trump never executed his threat to put Hillary Clinton in an orange jumpsuit through lawfare. But on Wednesday, one of his allied super PACs filed a 15-page complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics against Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of the only people who could perhaps help Trump now. But if he does help Trump despite that, it’ll likely hurt him as he eyes a presidential run himself and help guarantee a Biden victory. Another trap, then, compliments of the former president.
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I have to wonder if this isn't the point of Trump and if Trump isn't actually working for the other side? If he has the instincts he's so often described as having, why is he such a reliable, predictable, foil for the Establishment?
As someone who did vote for him, I get the desire for him to be what so many of us wish that he was. But he isn't and his moment has passed. Those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear know that we need someone else who is much, much, more capable and cunning, frankly. That person will have to have the temperature of the moment, will have to have real policy already formulated with a strategy for implementation, and a sense of how much cleaning of federal agencies has to happen, and where all of the subversives are located in the various agencies with a plan on how to root them out. I think we can all agree that Trump is in no way that person and cannot accomplish these things. No one in his immediate orbit has what it takes, either.
Excellent reporting, as always, about the Berkeley Group.
Bragg's imminent indictment is a sham and should be protested. But not in NYC or DC. For MAGA those are box canyons. However, this is a big country. Plenty of room.
There are also plenty of Republican DAs. Some are even MAGA. And lots of low-hanging Democratic fruit.