Donald Trump ran for president as the professed candidate of “law and order,” a phrase he borrowed from Richard Nixon. He successfully portrayed his opponents — not only the Democratic presidential candidate, but the entire Establishment arrayed against him — as a corrupt oligarchy enriching itself at the public expense. By now, at this probably still-early point in the Mueller investigation, we know that Trump’s campaign manager, national security adviser, and personal attorney, along with two other campaign aides, are convicted and confessed felons.
It is common for Trump’s opponents to retreat into cynicism about the possibility for news events to damage Trump’s standing. It is certainly true that the president has tapped into a deep vein of cultural and racial revanchism, ensuring the irrevocable loyalty of a large segment of his base. But not every Trump voter was attracted to his gross bullying racism. Some simply overlooked or accepted it in the hopes that he would put his bullying to work for them, to “drain the swamp.” That criminality has proven to pervade his inner circle is visceral evidence of a broken faith with those voters who trusted this promise.
Today, a jury convicted Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, of eight counts of tax and bank fraud. As recently as four days ago, Trump described Manafort as “a very good person.” Manafort is obviously deeply implicated in Russian government overseas political influence operations, more evidence of which may or may not emerge. (Manafort appears to be holding out for a presidential pardon, rather than share any incriminating information about trump with investigators.) What we know already is damning enough: Trump hired a crook to run his campaign.
Today’s near-simultaneous guilty plea of longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is even more damning. Cohen, who is also the former vice-chairman for finance of the Republican National Committee, admitted to a number of crimes involving Trump. Like nearly everything Cohen did during his time as Trump’s “fixer,” he told the court he committed these crimes for Trump’s benefit and at his direction. Cohen paid off women who alleged affairs with Trump, and violated campaign-finance law.
Significantly, the first two Republican members of Congress to endorse him, Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, have both been charged with serious felonies. There is a type of person to whom Trump is attracted, and a type of person who is attracted to Trump. He repels virtue, and is a magnet for sleaze.
Despite Trump’s persistent efforts to impede the inquiry into his campaign’s collusion with Russia — by firing the FBI director, pressuring the Department of Justice to end the inquiry, and dangling pardons to witnesses — there is very likely much more to come. Even in the exceedingly unlikely event that the trail of evidence somehow stops dead cold, the degree of illegality already proven to surround Trump is historic.
From his profitable association with La Cosa Nostra, to his lending of properties out for worldwide money launderers, to his “Trump University” scheme that he was forced to settle, Trump has built an entire career knee-deep in ethical filth. Very little of this was litigated in the 2016 election — which, in fact, devoted more attention to the sloppy email practices of his opponent than all of Trump’s shady associations and practices. His ubiquitous “lock her up!” chants reflected the widely shared belief that Trump’s opponent was the greater sinner.
Should he stand for reelection — a prospect that seems slightly less certain tonight than it did this morning — Trump will be doing so in very different circumstances. He will be running not as Nixon in 1968 or 1972, but Nixon in 1974, not as the guardian of law and order, but a crook.