Donald Trump knows a perp walk is good TV

While the world waits with bated breath for a Donald Trump indictment, reporters on the Mar-a-Lago palace intrigue beat say that no one claims more anticipation than Trump himself.

“[T]he former president has told friends and associates that he welcomes the idea of being paraded by the authorities before a throng of reporters and news cameras,” New York Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Michael Bender write. “He has even mused openly about whether he should smile for the assembled media, and he has pondered how the public would react and is said to have described the potential spectacle as a fun experience.”

On one level, this is definitely what the internet slangsters call “cope” or cable news pundits dismiss as “bravado,” i.e. delusional nonsense people spew in order to avoid dealing with troubling realities. Certainly, self-soothing fairy tales are rife in the MAGA world these days, as Trump and his fans try to tell themselves that a man most Americans hate will get more popular if he’s put on trial for various crimes.

Still, Trump’s impulse here makes a certain amount of sense.

For one thing, one of Trump’s few talents is knowing what makes for good TV. His perp walk would absolutely qualify. For a terminal narcissist, being at the center of one of the biggest TV events of the year is intoxicating, even if it is his own arraignment. But this impulse of Trump’s also fits every other indicator that his campaign strategy for 2024, however ill-advised, is to focus on pleasing the MAGA base, even at the expense of winning over any other voters.

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

Trump’s not wrong to think that getting arrested will make MAGA love him more. He gets what still too many pundits fail to understand: The MAGA movement wants its leaders to be villains. Getting arrested in as showy a way as possible will only cement his brand as the top dog in the increasingly robust field of MAGA scoundrels, each vying to win over the GOP base by showing they are the biggest baddie of them all. 

For a terminal narcissist, being at the center of one of the biggest TV events of the year is intoxicating, even if it is his own arraignment.

Let’s get one thing very clear, however: Popular with the MAGA base is not the same thing as being popular overall.

Trump and his supporters try mightily to confuse people on this point, often to great effect. Both liberals on social media and cable news pundits have fallen into the habit of worrying that indictment might “help” Trump, a fear that Trump has gone out of his way to amplify. There was, for instance, a great deal of consternation this week over new polling showing that Trump is pulling ahead of his biggest primary rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. 

No doubt, being a flamboyantly evil person is how to become a star with the GOP base these days. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has turned herself into one of their biggest celebrities by being the biggest villain. DeSantis understands this, which is why he’s making a name for himself by banning books and shipping migrants around like they’re cargo. It’s why Rep. James Comer of Kentucky gloats about his dishonesty to New York Times reporters. Republican are even starting to dress the part now, styling themselves more like Batman villains than the staid politicians of old. 

Trump’s not wrong to think that getting arrested will make MAGA love him more.

But while MAGA voters love a mustache-twirling villain, the majority of voters don’t. It’s why Republicans have been underperforming in the polls since Trump stepped on the scene and convinced the rest of the party that a proud heel turn is good politics. As Alexander Burns of Politico gently reminded the overthinkers this week, “Trump needs to grow his support, not merely rev up people who already care deeply about his every utterance and obsession.” Most people find it off-putting when Trump whine because he wants to write illegal hush money checks to porn stars without consequences. Even his own supporters are having trouble getting motivated to defend Trump for such petty B.S. This isn’t the campaign slam dunk Trump is pretending it is. 

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

But sure, turning his own arraignment into a reality TV spectacle would likely help Trump bolster his brand within the MAGA community, which has thoroughly embraced an anti-social ideology and aesthetic. We’re talking about people whose main political impulse is “owning the liberals.” They’re people who use “woke” as an insult, even though it means “believing in social justice.” They’re still throwing fits because of now-past mandatory mask policies, solely because participating in an effort to slow down a pandemic offended them to their core. They treat imbecilic jerks like Elon Musk like heroes. As a political movement, MAGA really is little more than a bunch of bullies who just long to shove someone’s head in a toilet. 

Punching down is MAGA’s turn-on.

What’s funny is that DeSantis himself seems to be losing his grip on this basic understanding. He used to understand implicitly that MAGA is attracted to the biggest asshole, which is why he always tries to be seen abusing the most vulnerable people he can find, from queer kids just trying to survive school to refugees shivering in the cold. Punching down is MAGA’s turn-on. But now he’s going on Piers Morgan’s show and taking potshots about Trump lacking “character.”

Look Ron, Trump voters know lacks character. That’s why the MAGA base loves Trump! And it’s what they loved about you, Ron. But turning yourself into one of those Mike Pence types who tries to put some moral gloss over what is actually a very dark soul is how to lose them. They want people who are proud of being evil. 

No doubt, most MAGA types will deny, if confronted, that they love evil for its own sake. Like a good number of Batman villains, they instead frame their quest as one of vengeance for perceived wrongs against them. Trump himself has been ranting about how he is their “retribution,” in Stephen Miller-penned speeches that are indistinguishable from the manifestos of mass shooters. Of course, like the complaints of mass shooters, the “injustices” that MAGA decries are utterly baseless. Mostly they’re just mad that it’s easier than it used to be to question the unearned privileges of white men. 

Whatever the excuse, however, the situation as it stands is this: Within the ranks of GOP voters, being a bad guy is a plus. Trump absolutely could excite them more by leaning into his criminal identity. (If any prosecutor could actually stop being a chicken and indict the guy already, that is.) Outside of that shrinking MAGA demographic, however, electing a man who thinks he’s the Joker — but is actually just a bad-at-sex aging grifter — is less appealing. Not that anyone should be complacent about the 2024 election, as complacency is what cost Democrats the White House in 2016. But it’s okay to enjoy Trump’s indictment — if anyone ever has the guts to make it happen. He may be smiling through it, but exciting a bunch of jerks who already like you is not the victory Trump pretends it is. 


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar