The second day of Donald Trump’s hush money trial was glorious. It began with a hearing over eleven alleged violations of the judge’s gag order on talking shit about the jury or potential witnesses, and it could not have gone worse for Trump’s lead lawyer Todd Blanche, who was told he was “losing all credibility with the court” with his asinine arguments. The judge deferred making a ruling, and the prosecutors said they weren’t “yet seeking an incarceratory penalty,” adding that the “the defendant seems to be angling for that.” But whenever the ruling comes down, I suspect it will describe the next steps in incarceratory terms because Judge Merchon was clearly displeased and there’s simply no other way to stop Trump.

In Ann Althouse’s world this is all great news for Trump because “if Trump goes to jail” over gag order violations “the Trump movement will gain energy and ‘He’ll become Nelson Mandela.'” She added, “This is what Trump does. Whatever happens, he makes something of it. He’s a builder, and he will use the materials on hand.” It’s a point bolstered by Marc Caputo in The Bulwark who is focused on how Trump successfully fundraises over every legal setback. When this is your biggest fear or the best way to make yourself feel better about Trump’s chances, you’re just too committed to your position. Getting your ass kicked in court is never good news or a sign of strength even if you can find a way to get some compensation.

I’d also add that comparing your hero to Nelson Mandela isn’t good for much beyond trolling. I suppose the idea is that you can’t kill a movement simply by imprisoning its most articulate proponent, and that you can instead inadvertently give that movement strength and moral authority. But I’m probably being silly even trying to find a point. Trump will try to benefit by being incarcerated but no one thinks he’ll be a stronger candidate if he’s doing time. As for a movement beyond Trump, there is no MAGA movement without him. It doesn’t have enough ideological coherence to sustain itself.

I will only on the rarest occasions cite William Kristol in favor of an argument I am making, but he made an important point by noting that a slight majority of congressional Republicans just voted to give military aid to Ukraine in defiance of their presidential nominee and everything the MAGA movement stands for. That’s remarkable and unprecedented in a presidential year. If Trump had fought harder against the bill, he might have done somewhat better, but he apparently doesn’t want to get blamed for the fall of Kiev before Election Day. What the vote demonstrates is that on one of the most critical issues facing the U.S. Government, the Republicans aren’t taking the MAGA/Kremlin line, and that’s a true sign of Trump’s weakness within the GOP, and not Mandelaesque at all.

Tuesday was also the second day of testimony by David Pecker, the former top guy at the National Enquirer, and he detailed how the catch-and-kill practice from the 2016 campaign. The Enquirer worked hand in glove with the Trump campaign through Michael Cohen to identify threatening stories, buy the exclusive rights to them, and then not publish them so they would never see the light of day. They also ran made-up hit pieces on Trump’s primary opponents, particularly Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and then obviously Hillary Clinton in the general election. Pecker testified that it was the Enquirer’s editor-in-chief who came up with the story about Cruz’s father working with Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Trump made sure to promote that story all over social media. Yet, Cruz and Rubio won’t see a peep about it because they long ago accepted Trump as their political daddy. In Cruz’s case, this is even more appalling when you remember that Trump attacked his wife’s looks. At the time, Cruz called Trump a “sniveling coward,” but he would have been more accurate talking about himself. He was among the 15 Republican senators who voted against aid to Ukraine.

Pecker’s testimony was helpful to the prosecution because he made clear that Trump had assigned Cohen to handle the catch-and-kill stories and was a micromanager about spending corporate money. Trump’s only defense in the case is that he had no idea that false business records were being created to hide the payments to Stormy Daniels, but Pecker’s descriptions made that seem highly implausible. Pecker also bolstered whatever Cohen will testify to in these respects, but did so in an affable, grandfatherly and Trump-friendly way.

All in all, it was, as theĀ New York Times reported, “a dismal day in court” for the disgraced ex-president. And I was so there for it. I’ll be there for it on Thursday when Pecker presumably completes his testimony.

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