April 4, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Today, investigators are asking themselves: How weak is he?
If strong, expect nothing. If weak, expect Trump to stumble under the weight of everything that’s been sticking to him for years.
Last week, the New York Post ran a cover story, in the wake of Donald Trump’s indictment, with this headline: “Teflon’s Gone.” The reference was to the criminal former president’s seemingly superhuman ability to avoid political consequences for things others would not. It was a reference to political history, too. The cover of the March 2, 2016, edition of the New York Post: “Teflon Don! Trump wins seven states: Mud fails to stick.”
Now that he’s been indicted, things appear to be sticking.
But things had always been sticking.
Politically, things have been sticking to him since it was discovered that Russia interfered on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election. Trump was impeached twice. He lost in 2020. (Other than the fluke election of 1992, an incumbent hadn’t lost in 40 years.) Adversity never made him stronger. It always made him weaker. It’s been showing for a while.
But as we witness, for the first time in our history, today’s arraignment of a former president, something else is beginning to show. Things had been sticking not only politically. They had been sticking legally, too.
We’ll look back at how wrong we were. He was never made of Teflon. Things stuck. They always stuck. First, gradually. Then, suddenly.
Everything everywhere all at once
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had given up investigating whether Trump paid Stormy Daniels with campaign money to keep quiet about their sex life. But then, in December, a Manhattan jury “found two Trump Organization companies guilty on multiple charges of criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records connected to a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on compensation for top executives,” according to CNN.
That gave Bragg a firm foundation to stand on.
We can expect the pattern to repeat itself.
The Post reported this weekend that federal prosecutors “have amassed fresh evidence pointing to possible obstruction” by Trump in the investigation of government secrets found at Mar-a-Lago. It suggests that, after a subpoena had been delivered, “Trump looked through the contents of some of the boxes of documents in his home, apparently out of a desire to keep certain things in his possession.”
The AP ran a report this morning rounding up other investigations, including one in Washington, related to the J6 insurrection, and in Atlanta, related to attempts to interfere with vote counting in Georgia.
The AP said they stand “in contrast to the last special counsel investigation involving Trump, when he was president and when Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors sought to determine whether Trump’s 2016 campaign had colluded with Russia to tip the election.”
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We can be sure that the heads of each of these investigations are going to watch today’s arraignment carefully. None wants to be accused of attacking a former president. Together, though, it’s different. Together, investigations look less like politics and more like the rule of law.
Of course, a normal person under criminal investigation for, say, stealing government secrets would have been sentenced ages ago. But a former president isn’t a normal person. Everything he touches is political. So what the heads of each of these investigations is going to look for isn’t about the law. It’s the answer to a simple question:
How dangerous is it to prosecute Trump?
Choices always have consequences
Which brings us back to things sticking, always sticking.
To gauge how dangerous it is to prosecute a former president, who has already announced his intention to run for president again, each investigation must evaluate his political strength. Or, more precisely, his political weakness. When he was president, the Republican Party protected him. Trump was strong enough to withstand Robert Mueller’s investigation and two attempts to remove him from office.
If he’s still strong, investigators will continue to be cautious. We’ll likely never see a criminal former president held accountable for his crimes.
But if he’s weak, expect Trump to stumble under the weight of everything that’s been sticking to him, politically and legally, for years.
Expect everything everywhere all at once.
Trump was never made of Teflon. He only looked that way. (He was made to look that way.) But he’s still a human living under human limitations. Choices have consequences. They always do. They might not accumulate as fast as we’d like, but still, they accumulate.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.
The last time an incumbent president lost re-election was George H.W Bush in 1992, which was about 31 years ago (28 years in 2020), not 40 years ago.
Hi Sean, you are right! I made the correction. Thank you.