On Wednesday, two back-to-back events demonstrated the strong imprint that Donald Trump has left on American politics despite leaving office a year and a half ago.
New York Attorney General Letitia James of course announced a $250m civil lawsuit against him, his three eldest children, his business associates and the Trump Organization, alleging that he inflated his net worth and the value of his properties to obtain tax benefits and loans that he wouldn’t otherwise receive.
A few hours later, the House of Representatives voted to pass changes to the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which governs how electoral votes are counted and how the results of the presidential election are certified. The Electoral Count Act entered into the American Consciousness when Mr Trump tried to persuade then-vice president Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Mr Pence famously rebuffed, which led to rioters calling for his hanging on January 6.
The new legislation would make the job of the vice president – or whoever presides over the Senate during the certification of election results – strictly ministerial to prevent any attempt to overthrow the presidential election results. All but 11 Republicans voted against the legislation which was co-authored by outgoing Republican Representative Liz Cheney.
Ms James has emerged as one of the most prominent attorneys general in the country who is willing to go after public officials regardless of party. Around this time last year, her investigation into sexual harassment allegations against fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo led to his resignation from the governorship. Her tenure and willingness to neuter the most powerful Democrat in her state contrasts with Republicans’ refusal to hold Mr Trump accountable.
Some of the allegations against Mr Trump border on the absurd, such as when he allegedly lied and said that his apartment was 30,000 square feet when it was merely a palatial 10,996 square feet. Or even when he allegedly lied about his wealth when he attempted to buy the Buffalo Bills football team.
But the farcical allegations became serious when the attorney general’s office claimed that he received improper tax benefits, saying that he “cheated all of us” and calling the overall scheme the “art of the steal”.
While not a criminal case like some liberals would like to see, the lawsuit goes to the heart of the image Mr Trump cultivated in the 2000s when he broadcast himself into American homes: an astute businessman who made obscene amounts of wealth, which in turn made him the ideal person to Make America Great Again from the White House.
But don’t expect the former president to be contrite anytime soon. If anything, his interview with Sean Hannity, who reportedly texted then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows during the January 6 riot begging him to get the former president to tell rioters to leave the Capitol, shows that residual anxiety about that day appears to have evaporated from Mr Hannity.
Conversely, Ms Cheney – who this week revealed that ahead of the riot, one Republican member of Congress said “the things we do for orange Jesus” when he signed his name to object to the 2020 election results – lost her Republican primary last month, as did Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Peter Meijer of Michigan, and Tom Rice of South Carolina.
The other Republicans who voted for the change – Representatives Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, John Katko of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Fred Upton of Michigan and Chris Jacobs of New York – all opted to not run for re-election.
Indeed, all but one, Mr Jacobs, voted to impeach Mr Trump. But two other Republicans who voted to impeach the former president for his actions on January 6 – Representatives Dan Newhouse of Washington and David Valadao of California – made it to the general election and will need the support of every Republican they can get.
Nowadays, perpetuating Mr Trump’s lies is the only way to move up in the Republican Party. Indeed, on Friday, Mr Trump will campaign in Wilmington, North Carolina, for Representative Ted Budd, who is running for Senate. Mr Trump endorsed Mr Budd for Senate in the GOP primary, which led him to beat former governor Pat McCrory, whom conservative groups portrayed as insufficiently supportive of Mr Trump’s lie.
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