Trump is moving his way beyond accountability. Mar-a-Lago research may be different.

Trump created this MO signature in 1973, when the Justice Department sued the Trump Organization for racial discrimination. He retaliated with a press conference and a $100 million countersuit for defamation. The headline-grabbing move catapulted him into the public eye. Few noticed when the judge threw out Trump’s suit as “a waste of time.” Fewer noticed the endless delaying tactics used by Trump’s attorney, Roy Cohn, to reach a settlement in the original case that amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist.

Trump repeated the same strategy again in 1980, as he razed the old department store building that stood on the future site of Trump Tower and hammered in a pair of much-admired art deco bas-reliefs that had been promised at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. . After the New York Times published a front-page story about the destruction of artwork estimated at $200,000, a man who identified himself as a Trump Organization vice president named John Barron — but who looked exactly like Trump — said. phoned reporters and said the art was worthless. Later, Trump, as Trump, called the sculptures trash and said he tore them down to protect pedestrians from falling debris. As before, public attention faded and when Trump Tower opened four years later, the New York Times architectural critic gave it a glowing review.

The following year, Trump purchased an apartment building in Central Park South, intending to tear it down and build a luxury hotel and shopping arcade. When the occupants complained that he was pressuring them to move out, he attacked the attackers, calling reporters and claiming the tenants were ineligible for New York’s various rent regulations. When they provided documents, he sued for eviction and made what he called “a generous offer” – tenants called it a threat – to turn empty units into homeless shelters . And when the tenants sued and media coverage of Trump’s actions turned hostile, he flip-flopped and announced he would leave the building as it was, but only because the changing market conditions meant that he would earn more from renovation than from demolition. He insisted it had been a savvy business decision, not a defeat.

In 1990, he owed nearly a billion dollars to his creditors, but the same well-honed strategy worked its magic again. The problem, he said in interview after interview, was not that he overspent, but that the banks lent too much — and the banks, not wanting to risk losing Trump’s name on mortgaged properties, have rolled over, lowering their interest rates and extending payment. time limit. In August, when the New Jersey Casino Control Board met with him to decide if he was financially stable enough to keep his casino license, he told reporters and TV cameras outside the room that he was “in very good shape” and that any financial problems were not due to what he had done but to the invasion of Kuwait by “that madman” Saddam Hussein; four days later, the commission voted to let him stay. In December, Marine Midland Bank seized two unfinished condominium buildings in West Palm Beach that it had purchased and renamed Trump Plaza of the Palm Beaches, and it was forced to hold a public auction. For anyone else, it might have been a time to avoid the limelight, but Trump sent out elaborate invitations and hosted the event at a prestigious Palm Beach hotel. After local high school cheerleaders staged a commencement rally, Trump stood at the back of a huge ballroom smiling and chatting with prospects with an enthusiastic patter about the bargains he was getting. they could conclude.

Trump soon learned that his flim-flam in business also worked in politics, especially in a changing media environment. By the 2000s, the explosive growth of cable talk shows and online media meant he could get his version of events out to the public without help from the mainstream press; all he had to do was call a show or post a message. In 2011, he went after Barack Obama with endless cable interviews and Facebook posts demanding he produce his birth certificate; in 2016, he posted and tweeted nonstop about Hillary Clinton’s emails and, after the Access Hollywood tape leaked in which he bragged about getting away with sexual misconduct, he used his megaphone in line to launch sexual misconduct charges against her husband, Bill Clinton.

Once again the Trump MO worked, and for the next four years he sat in the Oval Office dodging and shoving his way past all manner of charges, including two impeachments. It’s the same approach he used after he faltered on election night in 2020, insisting he had won and fraud on behalf of Democrats was rampant – despite a lack of absolute evidence.

Then on Monday, August 8, things changed. Trump was no longer president, he no longer had dozens of accomplished lawyers at his disposal, and he no longer controlled the narrative. The committee of January 6 had penetrated public opinion; multiple investigations into his business and tenure had been launched; and the federal archives, which administers records retention rules he had blatantly ignored, kept harassing him.

He was in a hurry, and he responded as he had so many times in the past, stocking up on Trump with Truth Social’s research post. At first, his allies rallied around him. Dozens of GOP politicians expressed outrage, far-right websites called for revenge and gun violence, everyone rejected fundraising appeals related to the raid — and Fox News slimmed down the judge who had signed the warrant showing a photoshopped image of him with convicted sex offender Ghislaine Maxwell.

But Trump was now operating from a perspective he hates: that of weakness.

Soon, he finds himself in New York for a long-delayed deposition in a financial fraud investigation. While president, he had managed to limit his involvement in court proceedings to providing written answers to questions; two days after the FBI raid, he was sitting in front of New York State Attorney General Letitia James doing something he had previously mocked as the culprit province: answering all questions except his name in pleading the Fifth Amendment.

The following day, Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed the public, speaking in a cautious and even-handed tone. He said he authorized the operation himself and that in light of what he called ‘the substantial public interest in the matter’ he was filing the paperwork to release the warrant and receipt of ownership – but Trump had the right to file an objection. He was calling Trump’s bluff, and everyone knew it.

Trump can still manage to evade all the accusations thrown at him and eventually return to the Oval Office; after all, a search warrant is not the same as an indictment, and his supporters are unlikely to disavow that. But that didn’t help his case when the same day Garland spoke, a man linked to a Truth Media account convicting the FBI attacked a desk in the Cincinnati bureau with an AR-15 rifle and nail gun. (The man was killed by state police after a high-speed car chase.) It also didn’t help when Garland released parts of the warrant and the press saw that Trump was doing the same thing. investigated for obstructing justice and violating the Espionage Act and that everything from nukes to foreign intelligence could be at stake. And it especially didn’t help that it all happened so that Biden, after signing into law three groundbreaking bills — the Cut Inflation Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the PACT Act — was having his best week in years.

For perhaps the first time in Trump’s entire career, the MO that had served him so well seemed to lose its magic. Maybe not for good, maybe not even for long. The question now is whether it can still save his life.

I wouldn’t bet on it.


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