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Heading toward a surreal event horizon


Two things have become extremely clear over the past few weeks:

(1) Donald Trump is facing several forms of serious legal jeopardy, both criminal and civil; and

(2) Short of what is statistically a highly unlikely health-related event of some sort, he is going to be the Republican nominee for president next year.

Indeed, as this analysis makes clear, as his legal woes mount, his grip on the nomination becomes stronger — and not despite the former circumstance, but as a direct consequence of it:

Since Mr.  Trump was indicted last month in a criminal case brought by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, his legal travails and his third presidential campaign have played out on a split screen. The courtroom dramas have taken place without news cameras present, even as the race has returned Mr. Trump to the spotlight that briefly dimmed after he left the Oval Office.

Ms. Carroll’s harrowing testimony, a visceral demonstration of Mr. Trump’s legal peril, has emphasized the surreal nature of the divide. Mr. Trump is the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. But he has also been indicted on 34 felony false records charges, and in Ms. Carroll’s case faces a nine-person jury that will determine whether he committed rape decades ago. And then there are the other investigations: for election interference, mishandling sensitive documents and his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. . .

The past week brought the former president a steady stream of setbacks. Ms. Carroll gave detailed and graphic testimony about the encounter with Mr. Trump. The judge in the case sought to limit Mr. Trump’s posts on social media, as did the Manhattan district attorney’s office in its own case. And former Vice President Mike Pence testified before a grand jury hearing evidence about Mr. Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Mike Murphy, a Republican political strategist who advised John McCain and Jeb Bush, said that trials and investigations of Mr. Trump often create “a psychological roller coaster for Trump-hating Democrats,” giving them hope that he will be taken down, only to leave them disappointed. Mr. Trump’s legal problems have yet to create significant political problems given the unflinching loyalty of his core supporters.

Since Mr. Trump was indicted, his poll numbers have risen. Criminal investigations against him, in Georgia and Washington, as well as Ms. Carroll’s trial and a civil fraud lawsuit brought by the New York Attorney General’s office, have done little to hamper him with his supporters. The poll he mentioned Thursday predicted that he would receive 62 percent of the vote in the Republican primary. His closest opponent, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has not yet declared that he is running, was polling at 16 percent.

The DeSantis boomlet was never much more than a typical elite media fantasy; and it’s now pretty clearly as dead as disco.

Meanwhile, here is the really key point about all these developments:

“To see a former and potential future president of the United States confront all these legal issues at once is bizarre,” said Jennifer Horn, a former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a vocal opponent of Mr. Trump. “But what’s really disturbing about it is that he’s the front-runner for a major political party in this country. And you can’t just blame that on him. You have to blame that on the leaders of the party and their primary base.”

Trump is the most virulent symptom of the underlying disease, but the disease itself is the decadence of the Republican base — a decadence that Trump both exploited and exacerbated, but that predated him, and will outlast him.

As to how this country is going to negotiate a situation in which a man facing multiple criminal indictments, as well as civil judgments for things like violently raping a woman in a department store dressing room, is also simultaneously the presidential candidate of one of the only two political parties of any consequence in this nation, your guess is very much as good as mine.

This is completely uncharted territory, and nothing illustrates that better than the fact that this utterly bizarre and disturbing situation has for all practical purposes already been essentially normalized by the political media in particular and the broader cultural discourse in general.

This is the way we live today; how we will be living in 2025 and beyond is not something I can see clearly now.

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