Unstaffed and seething, Donald Trump in exile is the grifting crook he always was
I’m a fan of the little details in this Washington Post story on Donald Trump’s post-presidential, post-attempted-coup life, cooped up inside his Mar-a-Lago home and resort. That Trump is being chauffeured around his golf course in a cart that sports a laptop or a laptop and printer combo so that his driver can show him “uplifting” news or internet posts between swings may not qualify as news, but it is certainly informative and deeply funny. We also aren’t anywhere close to the end of new stories that detail just how completely the Trump transition out of power was whiffed, thanks to Trump’s insistence on remaining in power and the absence of anyone around him willing to stuff him into a sack and haul him off in the trunk of their car.
But it still feels like the press has not learned the central lessons of the man, or at least is still unwilling to present them fully due to a neutrality fetish that brushes over crimes and corruption in exact proportion to the size of the subject’s own spokes-battalions. Donald Trump is not a complicated person. He’s never been a complicated person. The man has the attention span of a cockatiel; he’s spent his whole life constructing a lavish cage for himself and purchasing bigger and bigger mirrors for his self-adoration.
The man can’t even make it through a round of golf unless he’s got an assistant feeding him flattering internet posts to give him the strength for each swing. His highest life ambitions continue to revolve around weird, petty, and comically cheap schemes to squeeze anyone who comes near him for pocket change. His twitchy, crabby, and occasionally crime-pocked Mar-a-Lago exile is not out of place in the slightest; this is who the man has been through the entirety of his public life.
The Post‘s promise is that Trump has “jettisoned restraints” at Mar-a-Lago, prompting “legal peril.” He has a much-dwindled staff, with nobody able or willing to tell him why sitting down to dinner with a world-infamous white supremacist might be a problem. The person driving him around in his Golf Cart of Affirmations is a former OAN host; a collection of other low-level aides were plucked from White House halls after Trump’s coup, but damn few of the names that turned themselves into objects of parody in the Trump “government” days have stuck with him after the … wait, it’s on the tip of my tongue…
Oh! Right! The coup. The attempted coup against the United States government, the one Trump fought with weaponized propaganda and a crowd of armed militants gathered specifically by Trump at the site and hour in which that government was to formalize his defeat. The act of seditious conspiracy that saw Trump singling out his own unwilling vice president to a then-rioting mob.
It seems that after launching a seditious conspiracy that led to bloodshed inside the U.S. Capitol, Trump’s team of willing advisers has shrunk substantially.
Also, Trump hasn’t had a campaign for two years now, and he’s not interested in paying for talent out of his own pocket.
Also, anyone who wanted to salvage a career for themselves after Trump’s attempted coup had to move on long before now, either running for office themselves (often successfully!) or joining new campaigns or lobbying groups or, of course, cable news outfits, all of which pay considerably better than the Golfpants Crimelord has been willing to.
Also, Trump has spent the last decade firing anyone and everyone who ever gave him advice on how to not break laws, which has reduced the available talent pool to an even scragglier gaggle than he began with. He started with the Republican B team. He ended with the Republican D team. He’s now on Teams G through P, depending on the weather and what’s being served at the buffet that day. The paparazzi-ish reporting of late is filled primarily with various new lawyers and gadflies looking for their own turn posing next to Trump’s stubby thumbs.
Trump repeatedly insisted throughout his whole presidency that his staff do illegal things; fired staffers invented a whole new redemption-arc genre by relating all the crimes they did not let Trump do when he proposed that they do them.
Trump and staff repeatedly did do illegal things throughout his presidency, from using his office to boost the fortunes of a recently purchased nearby hotel to extorting foreign nations for campaign assistance; he skated through them with extensive evidence-scrubbing by his own appointed lackeys and with the help of a staggeringly crooked Republican congressional caucus that redefined all of it into business-as-usual.
The moment he departed to Mar-a-Lago, he lost access to a Congress hellbent on defending “their presidency” and an administration staffed from the top with only those most willing to devote themselves to polishing Donald Trump’s boots—and it took him roughly zero hours and change after losing those resources for him to do another crime of the sort he had been getting away with for four damn years.
He always ignored rules about government-owned documents and government-owned secrets. That was his thing. Packing up a pallet or two’s worth of government documents to be carted off to his own post-presidential home wasn’t out of character in the slightest, for Trump. The change was that he no longer had an entire Department of Justice staff willing to shut down investigations and release bullshitting memos explaining how none of the government rules from last week applied to whatever Trump did this week.
Trump’s error was not in flagrantly stealing government documents. Trump’s error was being too damn cheap to keep enough staff on the payroll to coax reporters and investigators to immediately both-sides his latest crime into oblivion.
He still came pretty close, though, thanks to the usual freelancers willing to work solely for the lolz. If the whole attempted a coup against the United States government thing hadn’t so drastically shrunk the pool of people willing to work for him when the Republican Party wasn’t paying them to do so, though, maybe his current retinue wouldn’t consist of ex-OAN hosts and Florida try-hards looking to Instagram their way into power.
Well, that was an awesome way to finish out the 2022 election cycle! Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard revel in Raphael Warnock’s runoff victory on this week’s episode of The Downballot and take a deep dive into how it all came together. The Davids dig into the turnout shift between the first and second rounds of voting, what the demographic trends in the metro Atlanta area mean for Republicans, and why Democrats can trace their recent success in Georgia back to a race they lost: the famous Jon Ossoff special election in 2017.
We’re also joined by one of our very favorite people, Daily Kos Elections alum Matt Booker, who shares his thoughts on the midterms and tells us about his work these days as a pollster. Matt explains some of the key ways in which private polling differs from public data; how the client surveys he was privy to did not foretell a red wave; and the mechanics of how researchers put together focus groups. Matt also reminisces about his time at “DKE University” and how his experience with us prepared him for the broader world of politics.
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