Trump is trying to make a comeback. It’s not working | Lloyd Green

His ‘campaign event’ this week was a dud, his legal woes are growing and his cronies are viciously infighting

Once again, the legal pitfalls and enthusiasm deficit that plague Donald Trump’s bid for the 2024 Republican nomination are on display. On Thursday, a federal judge imposed $938,000 in sanctions on Trump and his lawyers. Meanwhile, an appearance touted by Trump as a major campaign event was nothing more than a closed-door speech to deep-pocketed election-deniers at a Trump property.

For those looking for uplift from a Trump campaign, those days are over. Rather, personal grievance and claims of a stolen 2020 election will likely be his dominant themes. For the 45th president, that may bring catharsis. For everyone else in the Republican party, that spells chaos, headache and the possibility of another Trump defeat at the hands of Joe Biden and the Democrats.

“Mr Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries,” the court thundered in its ruling. “He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process.”

Judge Donald Middlebrooks shredded Trump and his lawyers for bringing a failed and frivolous racketeering lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, her political allies and a passel of ex-government officials. In the judge’s eyes, the lawsuit was little else than a repackaged Trump campaign stump speech.

A day later, Trump dropped a separate lawsuit filed against Letitia James, New York’s attorney general. That case too was pending before Middlebrooks, who similarly viewed that matter as “vexatious and frivolous”. The threat of sanctions hung in the air.

As for the Trump speech the public never heard, it now is another self-inflicted nothingburger, up there with his much-touted Trump NFT superhero trading cards – a waste of time and attention, a lost opportunity.

Earlier in the day, Trump had vowed to deliver a major political announcement later that night. He also promised to resume his signature rallies. Instead, he spoke behind closed doors at Trump Doral, his resort in Miami, to Judicial Watch, a tax-exempt group ostensibly dedicated to promoting “integrity, transparency and accountability in government and fidelity to the rule of law”.

That is the line Judicial Watch feeds the IRS. Reality is different. Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch’s president, pushed Trump to declare victory early on election night 2020 and stop counting ballots. Fitton also argued that White House records were Trump’s to keep.

Rule of law? Not so much, actually.

To be sure, Trump still leads the pack of prospective Republican presidential nominees. No other Republican contender possesses the same rapport with the party’s white working-class base; no one else is owed so much by Kevin McCarthy, the beleaguered speaker of the House.

By the numbers, Trump retains a double-digit advantage over Ron DeSantis, Florida’s spite-filled but mirthless governor. So far, the 45th president’s mounting legal woes, listless campaign and friction with the evangelical leadership have not displaced him from his perch.

At the same time, the Republican field appears poised for a growth spurt, and if 2016 teaches anything, it is that more actually is merrier from Trump’s vantage point. It dilutes the opposition.

Right now, anyway, Trump’s prospective challengers are running in place or forming circular firing squads. Mike Pence, his vice-president, hawks So Help Me God, a memoir. His numbers last hit double digits in June 2022. Candidates in retrograde usually lose.

Apparently, Pence is betting that abortion and the supreme court’s decision overturning Roe v Wade may get him to the promised land. Or not. In case Pence forgot, voters in otherwise reliably conservative Kansas and Kentucky rejected abortion bans.

Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, and Nikki Haley, his one-time UN ambassador, are publicly engaged in a personal spat. In Never Give an Inch, his soon-to-be released memoir, Pompeo trashes Haley for “abandoning” Trump and being less than consequential.

Celebrity Apprentice is back. “Haley has become just another career politician whose ambitions matter more than her words,” Taylor Budowich, a former Trump spokesman who sued the January 6 committee, has since chimed in.

To be sure, Haley gives as good as she gets. She accuses Pompeo of peddling “lies and gossip to sell a book” – arguing that Pompeo “is printing a Haley anecdote that he says he doesn’t know for certain happened this way”, to quote Maggie Haberman.

Yet for all of his would-be opponents’ missteps, Trump’s road to re-nomination won’t be a coronation. His mojo is missing, his aura of inevitability damaged, if not gone. In the two months since Trump announced his candidacy, he has barely ventured from the confines of Mar-a-Lago, his redoubt by the Atlantic.

There is also the primary calendar. Trump could well face Chris Sununu, New Hampshire’s popular governor, in the state’s primary. A Trump loss in the Granite State would be monumental. He won that contest seven years ago. And down in Georgia, governor Brian Kemp may be aching for revenge.

Beyond that, Trump has suffered a series of recent legal setbacks. Last month, a Manhattan jury convicted the Trump Organization on tax and fraud charges. As a coda, the court imposed $1.6m in fines, the maximum allowed under state law.

Then there is the pending sexual assault and defamation litigation brought by E Jean Carroll. At a rage-filled deposition, the ex-reality show host flashed moments of verbal incontinence. There, he confused the plaintiff with Marla Maples, his second wife. In that split second, his much-hyped “she’s not my type” defense may have vanished.

The near future does not appear much brighter. A trial is set for later this spring.

Meanwhile, the special counsel moves ahead and the Manhattan district attorney reportedly shows renewed interest in Trump Organization payments to Stormy Daniels. Along the way, Michael Cohen has resurfaced. The circus is back.

To top it off, in Georgia, a Fulton county court will hear arguments this coming week on whether to release a grand jury report on the 2020 election. If indicted, Trump’s fate on extradition could well rest with DeSantis. Now that’s ironic.

  • Lloyd Green is an attorney in New York and served in the US Department of Justice from 1990 to 1992


Lloyd Green

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Guardian view on the January 6 committee: Trump’s terrible, no-good year | Editorial
Editorial: The referral of the former president to the justice department on four criminal charges is largely symbolic, but increases his woes


20, Dec, 2022 @6:30 PM

Article image
Trump claims he will never call Ron DeSantis ‘Meatball Ron’
Ex-president tests new nickname for Florida governor, chief rival in 2024 polls, by saying he would not use it

Martin Pengelly in New York

19, Feb, 2023 @1:14 PM

Article image
‘Executive guy’ DeSantis doesn’t want to be Trump 2024 running mate
Florida governor, who trails former president in Republican polls, says he would not accept an offer to join Trump’s ticket

Martin Pengelly in New York

24, Mar, 2023 @4:52 PM

Article image
DeSantis hits Republican poll low as Trump tightens grip on primary
Florida governor repeats criticism of Trump in Fox Nation interview as he attempts delicate balancing act

Martin Pengelly in New York

22, Mar, 2023 @6:45 PM

Article image
DeSantis praises Trump for ‘enhancing my name recognition’ in new book
Flattering comments from Florida governor are likely to disappoint Republicans urging him to jump into the 2024 race

David Smith in Washington

22, Feb, 2023 @10:00 AM

Article image
Trump ‘is in trouble’, says insider after DeSantis surges in 2024 polls
Florida governor takes enormous lead over embattled ex-president for 2024 race as Mike Pence nears a run of his own

Martin Pengelly in New York

14, Dec, 2022 @7:19 PM

Article image
Trump ignores Farage – and risks midterm elections farrago – with insistence on big lie
Analysis: His British friend tried to help but the former president did not want to forget his voter fraud obsession and focus on the future. CPAC loved it but Republicans hoping to take Congress know they are courting disaster

David Smith in Orlando, Florida

28, Feb, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Is rising Maga star Ron DeSantis the man to displace Trump in 2024?
The Florida governor has beaten the former president in recent polls of activists and could offer a younger version of Trumpism without Trump

Richard Luscombe in Miami

12, Jun, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
The Courage to be Free review: Ron DeSantis bows and scrapes to Trump
On the page, the Florida governor doesn’t show much courage about the man he must beat to be the Republican nominee

Lloyd Green

26, Feb, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
2024 Veepstakes: who will Donald Trump choose as his running mate?
From familiar faces to breakout Republican stars, 10 contenders for Trump’s vice-presidential pick for his third White House run

David Smith in Washington

02, Jan, 2023 @7:00 AM