Former President Donald Trump’s bad week is bad news for his comeback.
His family business was convicted Tuesday of criminal tax fraud. On the same day, his hand-picked candidate lost a winnable Senate race in a red state. The House January 6 committee has decided to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department – possibly of him or his close associates. And his call to terminate the Constitution has once again backed Republicans into a corner.
So many premature political obituaries have been written for Trump that it would be foolish to write him off as he embarks on his third consecutive White House bid.
But it’s getting more and more difficult to figure out how the man who rewrote the American political playbook can come back from weeks like this.
“I think Georgia, after this midterm, after what happened in 2020, may be remembered as the state that finally broke Donald Trump,” senior CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, a Republican, said after CNN projected that Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock would win a full six-year term.
Jennings is no Trump fan, but he is an astute follower of GOP politics.
“Losing Georgia in the presidential election, losing the Senate race, this is not a state Republicans ought to be losing,” he said.
Walker’s loss, despite a massive infusion of cash from Republicans in Washington and the borrowed ground game of recently reelected Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, a Trump antagonist, provided another painful reminder for Republicans that their general election losses come when election deniers and Trump allies face general election voters.
“Every Republican in this country ought to hold Donald Trump accountable for this,” said Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who noted that the difference between Walker and the Georgia Republicans who won statewide office this year was Trump’s involvement. He said the party must pivot to stay competitive.
Conviction by jury vs. witch hunt
Trump will dismiss all setbacks as part of the “witch hunt,” but that may be a harder catchall to use against a jury of peers than of public officials.
And it’s more difficult to say the case against his companies is flawed when it’s built on the testimony of the former chief financial officer he worked with for decades.
The Trump Organization was found guilty on all charges, which stemmed from a years-long scheme in which prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said generous perks and benefits were paid to Trump employees but not reported to tax authorities as income.
Neither Trump nor his family were personally charged in this case. But Trump and three of his children face a separate civil suit brought by the New York attorney general that’s not likely to go to trial until next October.
Many shades of scrutiny
The scrutiny New York authorities applied to Trump’s company’s finances has yielded these tax fraud convictions.
An even larger question racing to its conclusion is whether the scrutiny applied by the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack and the Department of Justice will lead to federal criminal charges for his effort to overturn the 2020 election and his role inspiring US Capitol rioters.
The January 6 committee can recommend that the Justice department bring charges against Trump or his allies and CNN has reported that members on the panel have been in wide agreement that Trump and some of his closest associates committed a crime by pushing a conspiracy to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
But the committee, which includes outgoing Republican Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, has been split over what to do.
What kind of criminal referrals?
Committee chair Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said Tuesday the members would issue criminal referrals, but did not elaborate, saying the panel has not narrowed down the universe of individuals who may be referred.
As CNN has reported, the committee went so far as to appoint a subcommittee of members to assess “how to present evidence of possible obstruction, possible perjury and possible witness tampering as well as potential criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, according to multiple sources familiar with the committee’s work.”
A criminal referral by the committee, which could come in conjunction with its much anticipated final report and just before an incoming GOP House majority shuts the inquiry down, could help focus a sprawling Department of Justice investigation into the effort to overturn the election and the riot.
“We know the committee has really been ahead of the Justice Department,” CNN’s Jamie Gangel said Tuesday, noting the Justice Department has sought testimony and evidence gathered by the January 6 committee.
Helping alleged rioters
Instead of focusing on the next election, Trump continues to fixate on his 2020 loss.
Among his few appearances since announcing a 2024 run is an effort, by video, to help raise money for a group that helps people put on trial by the government for joining the Capitol riot.
Trump’s obsession with his 2020 loss continues to motivate his public statements and is complicating his plan to consolidate power in the party and clear anticipated GOP primary challengers out of his path.
Call to terminate the Constitution is not catching on
The bizarre call in a post on his Twitter-like Truth Social platform to terminate laws and the Constitution in favor of a 2020 re-do continues to reverberate in a party whose rhetoric is often built around fidelity to the nation’s hallowed founding documents.
“It would be pretty hard to be sworn in to the presidency if you’re not willing to uphold the Constitution,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.
There’s little surprise in the Kentucky Republican’s criticism of Trump. But the dodges of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are more telling.
A split in the GOP
McCarthy’s mission impossible is to find 218 votes from 222 House Republicans to gain the speaker’s gavel when the full chamber votes in January.
His problem is that the far right of the party – the roughly 40 Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus members – want assurances he’ll adopt a damn-the-torpeodes approach to using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip in government funding. He needs their support and is having trouble getting it.
Against that backdrop, the California Republican only said, “I fully support the Constitution,” when asked about Trump’s call.
Other top Republicans were caught off-guard when asked by CNN about the comments.
Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House and a possible fill-in if McCarthy can’t get the support among Republicans to become speaker, said he doesn’t support terminating the Constitution when Trump’s comments were read to him.
“Next to the Bible, it’s the most important document in the history of the world,” the Louisiana Republican said, refusing to comment on whether the former president should move on from election denialism.
Scalise and McCarthy are relatively mainstream Republicans and Trump’s recent taste in company has veered more extreme, such when he dined with the White Nationalist Nick Fuentes and the antisemitic rapper Kanye West, now known as Ye.
That was last week’s controversy. But this week is off to just as bad a start.