Donald Trump Snatches Back The Washington Microphone

Trump Iowa
Trump Iowa

Former President Donald Trump disembarks his plane as he lands at Quad City International Airport in Moline, Iowa, on March 13, 2023 Credit - Jabin Botsford—The Washington Post via Getty Images

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President Joe Biden made his first trip to Ottawa as the U.S. leader. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell announced another closely-watched interest-rate hike. Congress heard from the CEO of TikTok as it considered banning the app as a matter of national security. And even the cast of Ted Lasso took a turn in the spotlight during a visit to the White House to discuss mental health stigmas.

But one person actually ran Washington this week, and that was Donald Trump, whose rumored looming indictment was the only thing animating the D.C. insiders. And for good reason.

If indicted, Trump would become the first and only ex-President to face real criminal charges. His booking, legal filings, even his arrival in court would take on the aura of a circus, replete with a felon-styled red carpet for arrivals. His showmanship already had D.C. and New York on edge, with barricades going up around potential choke points for protesters who were summoned via social media much the way they were on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump seemed to be gleefully choreographing the whole affair from his seaside retreat in Florida, firing off rhetorical missiles from Mar-a-Lago with a style reminiscent of his pre-Twitter-ban days.

Not since he left the White House has Trump had such a stranglehold over this city’s paces and palpitations. After two-plus years of Biden’s steady-as-she-goes rhythm, a lot of us had forgotten the anxiety-inducing need to have push-alerts set for Trump and his closest watchers. “Policy by Tweet” quickly disappeared when Biden and his lot moved into the White House. When this White House has major news to announce, it usually comes with a briefing and detailed fact sheet, given to reporters a few hours ahead of the release. Congress has—to this point in the new Republican-led House—avoided a lot of cliffhangers; protracted haranguing on specifics is about as climatic as the Hill has offered. And Supreme Court justices leave very little to kremlinology as the arguments leave most observers pretty clued into how they’re leaning. Heck, even the Court’s most consequential rulings seem to leak well before they’re actually issued.

In short, Washington has been spoiled by an overwhelming sense of normalcy of some measure for the last two years.

Which is what has made this week so jarring. The haunting vibrations returned, as we all are watching to see what—if anything—Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg could do in court filings. Trump’s self-predicted arrest on Tuesday came and passed, but that hasn’t given the row of reporters standing outside a New York courthouse any break. As NBC’s Garrett Haake observed dryly on his Instagram page, “We live on this corner.” His producer posted from the same perch with the caption: “Day 8 of Indictment Watch.”

There’s no clarity in the secretive process, but there is no reason for either partisan camp to think it is safe. After all, the fight over the law is secondary only to the fight over public opinion. And while the ex-President has a long list potential legal woes—in Manhattan, in Georgia, even with the Department of Justice just east of the White House—the main topic of discussion at D.C. gatherings this week was whether this case being the possible first bite of the Trump apple would hurt or help him politically.

Trump is out of power and perhaps soon under indictment. It doesn’t stretch the imagination to think that any of Trump’s predecessors, facing such a mounting pile of potential legal woes and history-making blackmarks, would be huddled with advisers looking to minimize the publicity and to dismantle the troubles methodically. Not Trump, who has fueled the bonfire for his fans around the country and the indigestion for his critics in Washington. The vast uncertainty accompanying Trump and his multiple legal defensive postures demands attention, of course, but Trump is also clearly relishing the messiness; it’s what made him a reality television star, helped him rise a crowded and credible field of candidates in 2016, and powered his presidency through a constant lashing of grievance, trolling, and flamethrowers.

This week proved that Washington remains enthralled by Trump’s oversized power to dominate a news cycle. And it is providing a reminder to many of what the conversation in the nation’s capital, and nationally, would look like if he returned to power. And judging from Trump’s talents to create a spectacle around himself and sustain it, there is unlikely to be a break in that return to razzle-dazzle any time soon.

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