Donald Trump got two rude awakenings this week. One happened Monday in a New York courtroom, and the other came the next day courtesy of voters across the nation.
In both cases, Trumpism — the blustery, antidemocratic, extreme, often hateful right-wing nationalism that Trump has relied on since descending the escalator at Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his presidential candidacy — lost. And it lost big.
Its formidable adversaries: the rule of law and democracy.
Let’s start with the in-court TKO. Trump testified at the civil fraud trial in New York where he and his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. are accused of cooking the Trump Organization books and inflating the former president’s net worth by billions of dollars.
Trump brought his usual combative rhetoric, which his most ardent supporters have repeatedly rewarded him for. But, as Judge Arthur Engoron pointed out in response to Trump’s tantrummy outbursts: “This is not a political rally.”
Repeatedly, Engoron let Trump know that the rules matter — not only the rules of courtroom decorum and orders of the court that prevent Trump from attacking courtroom personnel and other witnesses in the case but also the laws of the Empire State that prohibit fraudulently inflating and deflating the value of personal and company assets in order to swindle lenders and tax authorities.
What Trump was clearly trying to do is sow distrust and distain among his supporters for Engoron, his court, and the judicial system writ large. By painting the entire process as a political witch hunt, same as the other criminal cases against him, all while drawing particular attention to the Black judges, prosecutors, and attorneys general by calling them all “racist,” Trump is out to squeeze any political advantage he can from the very serious civil and criminal liability he faces.
But it didn’t work.
Engoron made clear who is in charge, and it knocked Trump for such a loop that he didn’t realize he was crushing his own case by making devastating admissions on the stand — including that he intended to use the company’s financial statements to induce lenders like Deutsche Bank to give more money. Trust that Engoron, who will decide the fate of Trump and his prized business empire, didn’t miss that.
If that dramatic courtroom smackdown wasn’t enough, voters had more bad news for Trump.
Characterizing this week’s election results in states like Ohio, where voters gave state constitutional protection to reproductive rights, as merely a referendum against antiabortion proponents misses the forest for the very important trees. It was about so much more than abortion. It’s about freedom and democracy.
Democrats have found a winning strategy by hammering home the importance of protecting actual liberty, real freedom, and legitimate choice for all Americans. That’s not just about reproductive freedom but also protecting our institutions, bolstering voting protections, having quality schools that teach history accurately, meaningful gun control, and more. That is a stinging loss not just for Trump but also for those who enabled and helped him.
Even Republicans like Glenn Youngkin, the kinder, gentler Trumpist in Virginia’s governor’s office, wasn’t spared the voters’ anti-MAGA smoke. By handing full control of both houses of Virginia’s General Assembly to Democrats, voters gave the thumbs down to Youngkin’s abortion-restricting, history-denying agenda.
Yes, Trump and others in his GOP can take some solace in year-out polls that indicate that he may still have some advantage over Biden in a general election. But they rely on such polling at their own peril. Voters may think Biden is old and lacks vigor. He may not even be their first, second, or fifth choice for president.
However, actual election results measure something entirely different. And Tuesday’s returns showed that despite Biden’s underwater approval ratings, voters are clear-eyed about the choice they will be asked to make next November.
To the extent that off-year elections in states like Ohio, Virginia, and Kentucky serve as bellwethers for the incumbent president’s chances at reelection, voters’ shellacking of the current incarnation of the Republican Party should keep Trump up at night. That’s not rhetoric. That’s real.
And that reality, paired with the rule of law, is an opponent Trump may find unbeatable.