For what felt like the first time in weeks, Thursday was a day of “good news” for the former president, who has spent years baselessly portraying himself as a victim of a Democratic conspiracy to keep him out of the White House.
He was satisfied with his attorney’s case in front of the US Supreme Court. He won another primary election. A federal judge overseeing his classified documents case seems to be ignoring prosecutors’ fears about his harassment campaign. And President Joe Biden’s US Department of Justice gave the former president enough validation to keep the “sleepy Joe” narrative alive through Election Day.
Even when his rivals get the same treatment, Mr Trump tells his supporters he’s the victim of a “weaponized” Justice Department and a “two-tiered system of justice,” ignoring thousands of pages of evidence against him. He’ll take the victories in elections he won and call any loss “rigged” against him. His own attorney stood in front of the nation’s highest court to call a violent attack that risked tossing out millions of Americans’ votes “criminal,” and none of the justices blinked.
Seen another way, a firehose of news on a “good” day for the likely Republican nominee for president – leaning into his autocratic campaign built on “retribution” – is a big red flashing light for our deteriorating democracy, its institutions too slow or ill-equipped to respond.
Supreme Court justices, including the three he appointed, appeared ready to reject a Colorado decision that Mr Trump, under the “insurrection” clause of the 14th Amendment, is disqualified from public office.
The justices weren’t interested in having a working definition of “insurrection” let alone deciding if “engaging” in one should disqualify him from office. That whole question, which is both central to the case before the court and an otherwise straight-forward clause in the Constitution to keep people out of government who try to overturn it, was largely an afterthought, and the court’s chief justice wasn’t even open to debating what it means.
Colorado courts agreed that Mr Trump’s actions on 6 January 2021 – when a mob of his supporters, hopped up on his election lies, stormed the halls of Congress and stopped the certification of 2020 results – “constituted overt, voluntary, and direct participation in the insurrection”.
Mr Trump’s attorney told the Supreme Court that it was merely a “riot,” even a “criminal” one. But if it was “insurrection,” only Congress can decide to remove him, and only after he is elected, he said. A vote would then be in the hands of the same body controlled by a party that right now is putting forward a resolution claiming that the former president “did not engage in insurrection”.
The justices were more concerned with legally irrelevant, hypothetically messy complications that could follow a decision to disqualify a candidate who “engaged” in insurrection, with Justice John Roberts – with no sense of irony whatsoever – wondering aloud that an election could “come down to a handful of states that will determine the presidential election”.
What if Republicans decide that a Democratic candidate engaged in something they’d consider an insurrection, he asked, dismissing the Colorado attorney’s argument that “frivolous” attempts to invoke the 14th Amendment shouldn’t be treated the same as the one in front of them – that is an actual event that happened a few years ago just down the street.
A few mere hours after the Supreme Court hearing, the Justice Department’s special counsel investigating the president’s mishandling of classified documents released its report.
The report notably questioned Mr Biden’s mental fitness, feeding into right-wing attacks that Mr Trump has weaponised for his base. The results of the investigation – which didn’t yield any criminal charges – gave the former president ample ammunition for his campaign, which has raised tens of millions of dollars with a narrative of political persecution he tells his supporters is also coming for them.
Special counsel Robert Hur correctly made the distinction in his report that the president’s conduct was far different than the former president’s in the Mar-a-Lago case largely absent in the media frenzy, which Republicans are eager to exploit in bad-faith attacks. Prosecutors are supposed to stay out of partisan politics, yet Mr Hur’s report is now being sharpened into a lethal weapon by the same people throwing democracy under the bus for Mr Trump’s second coming.
That same night, special counsel Jack Smith – who is leading the two federal investigations into the former president – blasted a federal judge who has ignored repeated warnings that Mr Trump is using his indictments to bully and threaten witnesses and anyone else in his way.
He criticised US District Judge Aileen Cannon for ordering prosecutors to submit documents in the Mar-a-Lago case without redacting witness names and other information that could present “significant and immediate risks of threats, intimidation, and harassment”.
Mr Smith has repeatedly warned judges about what his team has previously called a “part of a pattern, stretching back years, in which people publicly targeted” are “subject to harassment, threats, and intimidation”.
Mr Trump “seeks to use this well-known dynamic to his advantage” and “it has continued unabated as this case and other unrelated cases involving the defendant have progressed,” Justice Department attorneys wrote last year.
Meanwhile, Thursday night also saw Mr Trump sweep the Nevada caucuses – an outcome that was all but guaranteed after Republicans in the state effectively made up a separate contest for him. He celebrated nonetheless.
This is likely the pace for the rest of 2024: an exhausting blast of “flood the zone” chaos to prove Mr Trump “right” at everyone else’s expense.