early and often

Republicans on Trump-Carroll Verdict: Ask Again Later

Breaking from the wary crowd, Tommy Tuberville is more thrilled to support Trump than ever. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

There’s never been anything quite like the jury verdict confirming E. Jean Carroll’s allegations that the 45th president of the United States sexually abused her in a New York changing room in 1996 and then spent years lying about it in a way that defamed her. Presidents either don’t engage in such conduct or don’t get caught, and they certainly don’t cultivate a reputation for disgusting and potentially illegal behavior the way Donald Trump has.

Having said that, it’s astonishing but true that nobody really knows how this development will affect Trump reelection effort. The Carroll verdict comes at a time when Trump seemed to be reestablishing his grip on GOP elites and voters alike — not just despite but because of the legal peril he faces on multiple fronts. So why should this situation be any different?

There are, actually, a few reasons that the Carroll verdict might matter to some voters more than Trump’s other legal issues. For one thing it was a jury, not a judge or prosecutor or politician, that looked at the evidence and decided to believe Carroll rather than Trump. And for another, the misconduct in question wasn’t some arcane matter of business fraud or campaign finance law or election tampering: it involved a powerful man violating an innocent woman, something everyone can understand.

You can see the uncertainty about how this will all play out in the instant reactions of Trump’s fellow Republicans. They fell into three categories: regular Trump critics (e.g., Mitt Romney, Asa Hutchinson and Chris Christie), who said what they regularly say about his unfitness for the presidency; Trump fans (e.g., Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Bill Hagerty), who immediately echoed his dismissal of the verdict as part of a partisan “witch hunt” centered in evil New York; and then the many politicians, including most of his 2024 rivals, who headed for the hills, presumably waiting for some polling data. As Raw Story reported:

When Donald Trump was in the White House there was a running joke that every time he sent an inappropriate tweet or said something that made Republicans look bad, they would claim they hadn’t seen it or hadn’t read it.

That excuse resurfaced on Tuesday, a few hours after the verdict was read in the E. Jean Carroll case in New York. …

When Raw Story caught up with Republican Senators about the case, none wanted to respond.

“I don’t have anything for ya on that,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said. “I haven’t seen the story. I haven’t seen any of it….”

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) swiftly walked away from Raw Story, saying Trump would appeal. He’s heading the Republican Senate Campaign arm.

“So, I’ve read the headline. That’s all I know about it,” Sen. Bob Marshall (R-KS) said. He then pivoted to talk about immigration and complain about national security and safety.

Perhaps the most honestly cynical reaction was from Texas Senator John Cornyn, who’s not up for reelection in 2024 and is the deputy of the Trump-hating-but-Trump-abetting Mitch McConnell, as The Hill observed:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters that he does not believe Trump stands a chance in a November setting but added he didn’t think the verdict would move voters.

“I don’t think it changes anybody’s minds, one way or the other. … I think people who support President Trump, support President Trump. People who don’t support President Trump, don’t support him, and I don’t think this will have any impact,” Cornyn said.

Translating this out of Beltway-speak, Cornyn doesn’t think the verdict will affect Republican voters but it might create another data point for those questioning Trump’s electability. So people in the Ron DeSantis camp, who are desperately praying for hard evidence that their candidate is a better bet than Trump, can hope that polls start to show decisive difference between the performance of the two Republicans against Joe Biden (they simply do not right now).

Beyond the immediate flight-or-fight reactions of Republicans, the fallout in the GOP will depend on how hard Trump leans into the story as another alleged example of his crucifixion by the godless radical left. But it’s hard to imagine anyone being more preemptively aligned with the former president than Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville, who found a way to literally double-down on his MAGA-hood:

Whatever happens in the long run, the Trump pity party is going to rage for quite some time, to the grim amusement of those who think decency suggests more sympathy for E. Jean Carroll.

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Republicans on Trump-Carroll Verdict: Ask Again Later