There was a while earlier this year when various commentators and news organizations were touting the story that President Trump would never leave the white house and somehow would hold onto the presidency, turning the US from a republic to a dictatorship.
The major news outlets – I think I can refer to the New York Times here – assured us that it was a difficult and unlikely scenario. But I suppose that, as in the case of the old monster movies at the drive-in, we just like our summer thrills and chills. What has happened is of course vastly different.
To be honest, the present outcome, that the President would flail about at the end, and that it would all ultimately signify nothing, was fairly predictable. This is not to suggest that in principle the stakes are not always high in such a situation, or that we should not care or be wary – only that it was never likely that Donald Trump would manage to put together a credible legal or defacto challenge to the imminent end of his presidency. I do remember saying something to that effect over the last year. But admittedly I can be a bit of a wet blanket at times.
In the legal profession every lawyer has had clients who talk big but, when it gets down to the nitty gritty, can’t or won’t do the hard work. One or two come to mind, particularly, who were fond of telling attorney friends I worked with (and me) they just did not want to do this or that thing that counsel in no uncertain terms advised and that I supported. Fairly basic stuff. Make or break to the claim being made.
The clients didn’t want to not because these things put any unreasonable burden on them or were in any way unethical, but because the clients could not comprehend that, having made it as far as court, they could still lose. So they thought these things an unnecessary hindrance or somehow beneath them and didn’t do as advised. And they lost.
One of the problems with narcissists who get involved with legal cases is that they quickly manage to convince themselves they are experts who would have made great attorneys and that there is no way the courts are going to rule against them. Most of the time, and thankfully this time, that is a delusion. One who wishes to use the courts should generally study the claim first and save the ill considered willfulness and pomposity for later.
The US president likewise lacks the skills and attention span to play the role of plaintiff, either directly or through party surrogates, in a case of any complexity or serious moment. If he can’t get what he wants in a running twitter battle he usually loses interest and the discussion falls apart – the President’s attention diverted to some new “crisis.”
When Roy Cohn was still looking after then-real estate dealer Donald Trump, he handled everything legal and Trump was as a consequence a lot more effective in litigation than he is now – although even then he probably settled more than he won.
Michael Cohen never supported the President on anything like that level and was nowhere near as gifted as his predecessor. And Rudy Giuliani, once a very effective prosecutor, has developed serious coherence problems of his own.
Clearly Trump does not surround himself with lawyers who will tell him what needs to be done – or even whether anything is worth doing – where challenging the election is concerned. He is served now by lawyers who either decline to do the things he wants – and get fired – or do what he wants, but, given that what he wants is half incoherent and legally unsound, make a right mess of it.
It is no surprise that Trump attempted to challenge the results. It should be no surprise that no one in the government would even consider trying to keep him in office by extra-constitutional means. And it is no surprise – given that the increasingly out-of-kilter Giuliani is the best or at least the most influential lawyer he has still got at the moment who will still listen to him, the erstwhile seemingly competent Sydney Powell having gone completely nuts of late – that the legal cases he is bringing are all being dismissed or otherwise defeated.
I will never say never. That would be foolish. But at some point, we cross a line where the chance he will do anything significant in terms of refusing to relinquish office is less than the chance of a rogue asteroid strike. And if we have not yet crossed that line, we must be getting close.
And, for those who fear his 2024 prospects, take comfort from the fact that these final flailings liberate more and more Republican politicians from the need for allegiance to the President. If President Trump causes the Republicans to lose control over the Senate, those ties likely will be in ruins.
Senate majority leader McConnell – and, yes, I know we are not supposed to like him, either – has been showing extreme impatience with the president. If McConnell tries to override a final veto over Covid-19 relief, that will certainly be that.
All of which will make it much harder for the president to organize a successful candidacy for a second term as president in 2024. It is amazing what a short breathing space can accomplish.