This morning The Bulwark published a short essay about Trump's 2024 motivations by former assistant U.S. attorney Dennis Aftergut. "What," he asked, "makes Donald run? Why surrender his refuge at Mar-a-Lago, where Republican candidates make pilgrimages to stroke his ego for endorsements and where club members rain adoration upon him? Why not just go on claiming the mantle of the victor-victim? Two motivations appear to lead the pack of emotional wolves that maraud Trump’s brain. First, as his niece Mary Trump has said, he owns 'the most colossal and fragile ego on the planet.' His frail self-image fears external confirmation that he’s a loser. Restoration would represent redemption. Second, and likely more important, is his fear of federal prosecution. The presidency brings immunity from it under Justice Department memos. (As Kimberly Wehle has explained, those memos lack legal grounding.) Although Attorney General Merrick Garland has appeared reluctant to prosecute Trump, he remains exposed to federal prosecution on a variety of charges-- including charges related to Jan. 6th-- absent a return to the White House."
We received a strong whiff of Trump’s fear of federal prosecution last week via a disclosure from Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks. Trump yanked his endorsement of Brooks’s Senate candidacy, and Brooks quickly revealed the reason: He had refused the ex-president’s multiple entreaties since September 2021 to help overturn President Biden’s election-- now, deep into Biden’s term-- and hold an emergency election in which Trump would run.
That was a bridge too far even for an extremist like Brooks, a man who wore body armor to Trump’s Jan. 6th rally on the Ellipse, and who said, just before the violent siege of the Capitol, that it was a day for “American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”
Still, when Trump solicited Brooks’s support to help put the former president back into power before 2024, Brooks says he replied that “‘rescinding’ the 2020 election was not a legal option. Period.”
That a Trump acolyte would say no to his patron illustrates both how preposterous Trump’s request was and how anxious he is to return to the White House-- suggesting his desperation for the immunity that it entails.
And, sure enough, this morning U.S. District Court Judge David Carter ruled that Señor Trumpanzee "more likely than not" attempted to illegally obstruct Congress when he tried to subvert the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021. It was part of a ruling that turns over 101 sensitive emails from Trump ally John Eastman to the select committee.
Jonathan Allen wrote this morning that Trump's base in splintered over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He observed how that manifested itself at the poorly-attended and failed Georgia Rally for Losers on Saturday.
"It's not our business," Peggy Bright, 57, said shortly before Trump spoke to an unusually restless and muted crowd here Saturday night. It makes sense to her, she said, that Russian President Vladimir Putin would want to push back against NATO expansion.
"I'm not a Putin lover, but if it was here in America, I would expect our president to take care of our people, just like I would expect him to take care of their people," said Bright, who works at a local bookbinding facility. "I understand what Putin is doing."
Bright's sentiments reflect those of one wing of the Trump base-- as well as the former president's early praise of Putin-- but they are not universal. In conversations with Trump voters in and around this town, about halfway between Atlanta and Greenville, South Carolina, the spectrum of thinking ran from giving Putin free rein, on one end, to sending in U.S. troops.
That may help explain the inconsistency of Trump's message when Western democracies have united to condemn Putin, impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia and arm Ukraine.
All along, Trump has blamed Biden for Russia's aggression, but he has stopped lauding Putin. On Saturday, Trump called the war "Putin's heinous attack."
“Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, Joe Biden totally failed to deter Russia’s disgraceful invasion of Ukraine,” Trump said. “All of those people are dead. Putin’s heinous attack on a proud and sovereign nation shocks the conscience of every person of goodwill.”
...Some Trump supporters would welcome a stronger U.S. response.
Alina Roberts, a Trump voter who was born in Latvia and lives in Atlanta, said at Saturday's rally that Putin cannot be stopped without direct U.S. intervention.
“I love America, love our troops, but I think we need to send them there,” said Roberts, 22. “If we don’t really fight him-- as an individual, if you know what I mean-- it’s never going to end until he gets what he wants in its entirety.”
Asked whether she meant the U.S. must remove Putin from power, she said, “That’s exactly what I’m implying.”
In interviews, Trump supporters here largely voiced agreement with the former president's assertion that Putin would not have invaded had Trump been elected to a second term. They also criticized Biden from both angles-- saying he has done too much and too little.
There is little common ground about what should be done now, and some Trump backers revealed a deep ambivalence.
It is difficult to pin down one policy preference of the Trump base-- much less an entire approach-- when it comes to the Russian war in Ukraine.
Some of the most influential players in Trump's world, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have been heavily critical of Ukraine and shown enough sympathy for Putin to be amplified by Russia's propaganda machine. But many leading Republicans, including Trump allies in Congress, are ardent in their support for Ukraine and their antipathy toward Russia.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of Trump's most loyal friends in Congress, has called for Putin to be assassinated.