New role for Trump as TV host turned president reboots as The Defendant | Donald Trump

He hosted The Apprentice. He played The President. Now, at the age of 76, came the role that Donald Trump had spent his life avoiding: The Defendant.

On Tuesday, a single photograph showed Trump sitting in a prosaic New York courtroom with two lawyers to his left and two more to his right. Behind him were two uniformed police officers wearing handcuffs on their belts. One had a police radio on his shoulder, the other a Covid-protective mask over her face.

Two grey, ordinary notice boards adorned the plain wood wall. A small Stars and Stripes was pinned to one at an oblique angle. But perhaps most striking about the image was that, while everyone else was engaged in the moment, Trump stared back at the camera with an ambiguous expression.

For his millions of critics in blue America, this was the face of a criminal defendant at his moment of reckoning. It was the final fall for a man who used to walk with kings, command the world’s most powerful military and casually threaten political opponents such as Hillary Clinton with jail.

But his millions of fans in red America will have seen something else. America’s faith in law enforcement is matched only by its romance with glamorous criminals such as Bonnie and Clyde or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This was the day of The Outlaw Donald Trump.

Its neat symbol came in the form of a characteristically fake image. About half an hour before Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records over a hush money payments to two women, his campaign sent out a fundraising email selling T-shirts with a mocked-up mugshot of Trump and the legend: “Not guilty.” (In reality, no mugshot was taken.)

It was a typically audacious move that said everything about how, while this was a hideous day for Trump legally, it was seen by many as a victorious day for him politically and financially.

After all, the Trump Show that had enthralled America for years was in need of a reboot. Ratings had been flagging and the star performer’s act had become jaded. The nation seemed ready to move on and embrace normal. But then came a chance to give ‘em the ol’ razzle-dazzle. Once again, it was all Trump, all the time.

On Monday cameras followed Trump’s Florida motorcade in what CNN anchor Phil Mattingly described as an “OJ-like convoy” – a reference to the live TV coverage in 1994 of accused murderer OJ Simpson traveling in the back seat of a white Ford Bronco as Los Angeles police cars slowly gave pursuit.

On Tuesday, there was more wall-to-wall TV coverage as pro- and anti-Trump protesters and journalists gathered outside Manhattan criminal court, where streets were closed and police erected steel barricades.

Republican members of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and George Santos of New York, also showed up to support Trump. Greene told the Right Side Broadcasting Network with a straight face: “Trump is joining some of the most incredible people in history being arrested today. Nelson Mandela was arrested, served time in prison. Jesus! Jesus was arrested and murdered.”

Donald Trump makes trip from Trump Tower to courthouse for arraignment – video

South African historians, and biblical scholars, did not bother to hunt for evidence that Mandela or Jesus paid hush money to a porn star.

The Defendant held his fist in the air in a gesture to reporters as he departed Trump Tower. He made sure the reality TV show continued as he wrote on his Truth Social platform: “heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse. Seems so SURREAL – WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA!”

Wearing a dark blue suit and red tie, he gave a brief wave as he walked through forest of scaffold to enter the Manhattan courthouse.

Cameras are not usually allowed to film in New York courtrooms. The Defendant could have decided to let the cameras in but opted against. At first glance this seems out of character – but it makes sense as an effort to control the narrative about what happened in the courtroom (reporters who deny his version of events will be dismissed as “fake news”).

The Defendant was inside court for nearly an hour, much longer than usual for an arraignment, and pleaded: “Not guilty.”

Only Trump could turn the ignominy of becoming the first former US president in history to face criminal charges into a short term political win as he campaigns for the 2024 presidential election. Only Trump could turn the scandal of hush money into a cudgel against rivals from the Republican party, purportedly the party of Christian morality and family values.

But it is worth remembering that everything with Trump is fast food, not a long satisfying meal. The state case that seems all-important now will soon drift from the headlines and may not come to trial for a year or more. Federal investigations into Trump’s role in the insurrection, and mishandling of classified documents, may yet move faster and provide Republicans with a trickier loyalty test.

Tuesday’s epic event represented the latest stress test for American democracy, and it passed the test, demonstrating that not even former presidents are above the law. While it will give Trump outlaw street cred with his cultish supporters, it can only hurt him with the Democratic and independent voters that any candidate needs to win a presidential election.

A rematch of the 2020 election between Trump and Joe Biden just became a bit more likely – and so did a repeat of the result.

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