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The last time Trump feared Republicans would turn against him

Donald Trump saluted during a twisted remix of the national anthem sung by jailed Jan. 6 insurrectionists and played at an Ohio campaign rally on March 16.Jeff Dean/Associated Press

Here’s a remarkable thing about Donald Trump’s upcoming hush-money trial in New York. This case exists only because Trump once believed that there were misdeeds that Republican voters would not overlook.

The former president is facing 34 counts of falsifying business records for reimbursements made to Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, for a hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress with whom Trump allegedly had a brief affair.

Even though Trump’s infidelities dating back to his first wife, Ivana, were well-documented in 1980s New York tabloid headlines, Trump reportedly sought to conceal his alleged dalliance with Daniels because he allegedly assumed that revelations about it would hurt his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. 


Compare that to Trump’s current campaign for the White House where it seems that there’s little he can do or say to move the needle against him. If, as the late former New York governor Mario Cuomo famously said, “You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose,” then Trump is campaigning in hate and threatening to govern, if elected again, in retribution.

Consider what’s gone down with Trump in just the past few days. At a rally on Saturday in Ohio, Trump again referred to jailed Jan. 6 insurrectionists as “patriots” and “hostages.” After an announcer declared, “Please rise for the horribly and unfairly treated January 6th hostages,” Trump saluted and many in the crowd placed their hands over their hearts as loudspeakers played “Justice for All,” a twisted alternate version of the national anthem sung by the so-called J6 Prison Choir mixed with Trump’s recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

At his rally — and in a Fox interview a day later — Trump continued to conjure the hate speech of Adolf Hitler by accusing migrants of “poisoning the blood” of this nation. Then Trump, railing against car imports from China, said that if he’s not elected, “It’s going to be a bloodbath, for the whole — that’s going to be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country. That’ll be the least of it. But they’re not going to sell those cars.


”Now Trump, in his jumbled way of speaking, could have been using the word “bloodbath” in reference to what could happen to this nation’s auto industry. But since this is the same man who became the first American president to use the word “carnage” in an inaugural speech and was the first American president to incite a violent and deadly insurrection in an attempt to overturn an election he overwhelmingly lost, he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. He said what he said.

On his social media site on Sunday, Trump said that Liz Cheney — the former Wyoming congresswoman who was one of two Republicans on the Democrat-led House subcommittee that investigated the Jan. 6 insurrection — “should go to Jail along with the rest of the Unselect Committee” and made a false claim that the committee suppressed exonerating evidence.

In response, Cheney posted on X, “Lying in all caps doesn’t make it true, Donald.”

Then in an interview with a far-right radio show published online Monday, Trump said, “Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion. They hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.” It’s not the first time he’s resurrected this ancient antisemitic trope about Jewish disloyalty. Nor will it be the last time he’ll say something similarly ugly between now and Election Day.


All this in less than a week. 

Not that long ago any one of these vile actions or comments would have sounded a death knell for a presidential campaign. But Trump, like the authoritarian he aspires to be, believes he speaks for the masses. And like the dictators he admires, he remains undaunted by what is just, appropriate, or true because he gets away with it. 

But the hush money trial is a reminder that this wasn’t always the case. Eight years ago, Trump thought that an alleged act of infidelity that once might have made for an ego-boosting headline would be a dealbreaker for a presidential candidate trying to score a nomination from a party that falsely touted its moral superiority over those supposedly godless Democrats.

Now there are no guardrails that Republicans will apply, not that Trump would abide by them. In a way, the hush money trial is happening because Trump thought that Republicans possessed a greater sense of propriety than he does. They don’t. At a time when he’s desperately strapped for cash, it’s a good bet that he probably wishes he knew in 2016 what’s clear about the shameless and shameful party he leads now.

This is an excerpt from Outtakes, a Globe Opinion newsletter from columnist Renée Graham. Sign up to get this in your inbox a day early.


Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her @reneeygraham.