Donald Trump, both before and during his presidency, was often synonymous with scandal. His marriages, divorces, and affairs were New York tabloid fodder for decades, as were the many ups and downs of his various businesses.
During his campaign and presidency, Trump was beset by everything from his affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels to his reported subsequent hush money payments to numerous business entanglements. About a month before Election Day in 2016, a tape surfaced of Trump, on the set of “Access Hollywood” years earlier, appearing to admit to sexual assault, leading to a cascade of sexual assault allegations from through the years.
Over the course of his presidency, there were other scandals, from the very real but often exaggerated Russiagate affair to the controversies that led to two impeachments for, respectively, asking for a proposed quid pro quo in a call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and for his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection. A president who never behaved as if the usual norms and rules of politics applied to him, perhaps unsurprisingly, often ran afoul of rules, regulations, and possibly even laws.
None of that prevented Trump from being elected to the presidency, or from completing his term in office as scheduled. He did not resign or get removed, and as of now has never faced criminal charges for anything he did during his presidency.
However, Trump failed to win reelection, he’ll forever have the stain of the two impeachments, and his approval rating remained low for the entirety of his presidency.
Trump Looks Like He Will Get Beat in 2024
Now, Trump is officially seeking the presidency again. And while there is reason to believe that while the many scandals in his past may have finally caught up with him, that may not be the biggest reason that his return to the presidency is unlikely.
The long investigation into the Russia scandals by Robert Mueller did not lead to criminal charges for Trump, although it did for many other people close to him. Mueller did not charge Trump with obstruction of justice, and many experts speculated that Mueller was abiding by a Justice Department norm against indicting a sitting president for a crime.
However, Trump is no longer a sitting president, and no longer has that protection. And he’s facing multiple investigations that may very well lead to criminal charges. He is once again facing a Special Counsel, one who has been tasked with a determination of how to proceed both in relation to the Mar-a-Lago classified documents investigation, and any charges that may emerge from the work of the January 6 Committee, the latter of which met this week to discuss criminal referrals.
The lawsuit by the New York State Attorney General against Trump and his business was a civil action, although the office of Attorney General Letitia James did send a criminal referral to federal prosecutors and the IRS. Even the criminal probe by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office into the Trump Organization, which appeared to be over earlier this year, has reportedly picked up new steam.
There remains a very good chance that, in the coming months, Trump will be facing charges on at least one of those things (the Mar-a-Lago case, it would appear, is the most likely one.) Will that mean the end of his political future? Possibly. But there are many other reasons to be skeptical that he has one at all.
Trump’s third presidential run is widely believed to have gotten off to a slow start. His opening speech was described as listless, and Trump has been doing few events since.
But perhaps even worse for the 45th president, the 2022 midterm elections were widely considered a rebuke of Trump and Trumpism. In swing states especially, candidates who went along with lies about a stolen election went down to defeat, as did many low-quality candidates who owed their nominations to Trump’s support, led by Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker. Governors who are Trump enemies, led by California’s Gavin Newsom and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, were re-elected easily. Overall, the electorate did not behave as if they are in the mood for a Trump restoration. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, seen as the most prominent Trump alternative in the potential 2024 field, also cruised to re-election, and many Republican donors are looking more to him than Trump.
Could a Trump indictment in 2023 reinvigorate his supporters and cause them to rally to his side? That’s very possible. Those who have underestimated Trump in the past, from the 2016 campaign to the Mueller era, have been proven wrong repeatedly.
But at this point, there are many reasons to believe that it’s finally over.
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.