Trump World is imploding — which could be the start of Trump's big comeback

Possible prosecution is coming and his tax returns will soon be laid bare. Watch out: He thrives on attention

By Heather Digby Parton


Published December 19, 2022 9:37AM (EST)

Donald Trump with "TRUMP 2024" flag (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump with "TRUMP 2024" flag (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump may be very wealthy, but he's rapidly turning into a sad and pathetic figure. According to this report in the Washington Post, the former president tends to wander aimlessly around Mar-a-Lago, bored and lethargic, depending on his attendants to call around to allies to ask them to deliver "affirmations" and cheer him up. One former adviser characterized his new life as sad, saying he wanted to replicate the grandeur of the White House but it's more like "a Barbie Dream House miniature." Ouch.

This is not a picture of someone gearing up for an arduous presidential campaign. It's a picture of an old man trying to grapple with the fact that he's retired and doesn't have much of a purpose anymore.

To say that his campaign rollout has been a disaster is an understatement. In fact, it hasn't been a rollout at all. There have been no campaign appearances or rallies, no speeches, no interviews, no book tour — none of the things you'd expect any declared candidate to do in the early phases of the campaign. Last week, Trump teased a "big announcement" that turned out to be another one of his tawdry grifts, selling NFT trading cards. As far as we can tell, he's just been playing golf and showing up in the dining room each night to receive obligatory applause from his paying guests.

This is not someone gearing up for an arduous presidential campaign. It's more like a retired guy who plays a lot of golf, trying to grapple with the fact that he doesn't have much of a purpose anymore.

Meanwhile, there's a new circus ringmaster in town: Elon Musk, the second richest man in the world, who's been sucking up all the outrage oxygen by banning people left and right (but mostly left) from Twitter in the name of free speech. The right-wingers are very excited — or at least they were before Musk ran one of his patented "polls" asking whether he should step down as Twitter boss, and a clear majority of users voted yes. While Musk is jetting off to Qatar to watch Sunday's World Cup final with Jared Kushner and some Saudi pals, Trump is yelling at the clouds and nobody even notices.

But I've learned never to count Donald Trump out. When it comes to getting attention, he has a special set of skills. He may be a bit rusty but he's about to get a big boost without having to lift a finger. On Monday, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection will hold its last hearing before the Republicans take over next month and dissolve the entire operation. Members are reportedly preparing to refer former Trump to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. So he's been ranting all weekend on his tiny social media platform:

They say that the Unselect Committee of Democrats, Misfits, and Thugs, without any representation from Republicans in good standing, is getting ready to recommend Criminal Charges to the highly partisan, political, and Corrupt 'Justice' Department for the "PEACEFULLY & PATRIOTICLY" speech I made on January 6th.This speech and my actions were mild & loving, especially when compared to Democrats wild spewing of HATE. Why didn't they investigate massive Election Fraud or send in the Troops? SCAM!

That particular tantrum was in response to news reports on Saturday that the panel will vote to refer charges for Trump for violating "18 U.S.C. 2383, insurrection; 18 U.S.C. 1512(c), obstruction of an official proceeding; and 18 U.S.C. 371, conspiracy to defraud the United States government." Just as Trump was the first president to be impeached twice, he will be the first ex-president ever to be referred for criminal conduct by the Congress. What a legacy.

The Justice Department has no obligation to do anything with the coming referral, but is already conducting its own investigation, now led by special counsel Jack Smith, whose team will no doubt be very anxious to see the report and all its underlying evidence, which the committee plans to release by Wednesday. You never know what they might have turned up that the DOJ doesn't know about.

Trump is lashing out to get attention from his followers as much as anything else. He knows that portraying himself as the victim of government persecution usually provokes sympathy from the right-wing media and some quick cash in the campaign coffers. I think he's still convinced that the government will never actually indict him — and he may be right. Right now, however, he needs to be back in the spotlight — and in that respect, this criminal referral is just what the doctor ordered.

His cronies may not be so lucky. The committee is said to be contemplating referring several GOP members of Congress who were involved in the attempted coup plot to the House Ethics Committee and some of Trump's lawyers may be referred to various bar associations. Quite a few of these people are also under investigation by the Justice Department.

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Trump's just getting started, however. After he Supreme Court finally cleared the way for the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump's tax returns, members finally have them. According to the New York Times, that committee will meet on Tuesday for a closed-door discussion on what to do with them, and let us fervently hope its members vote to release them to the public. Every president since Richard Nixon has voluntarily released their tax returns and since Trump is still the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, this is likely the only chance the public will ever get to see them.

Trump wrote on Truth Social that his "GREAT COMPANY" has great assets and little debt but is "very strong on deductions and depreciation" promising that we will "see these numbers very soon but not all from the tax returns which show very little." Have any of his supporters asked themselves why he took the case all the way to the Supreme Court twice to stop Congress from seeing his tax returns if he had nothing to hide?

Axios reports that Trump's Republican henchmen in the House are plotting to release their own rebuttal report from the "shadow" Jan. 6 committee, which has never done anything until now. It consists of the five Republican members who voted to overturn the election on Jan. 6, whom Speaker Nancy Pelosi later refused to seat on the real committee. This pseudo-panel is led by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, who says the report will "focus on security failures" which they claim the select committee didn't bother to investigate. (In fact, it did, and those findings will be included in the final report.)

It may seem astonishing that Donald Trump could actually benefit from all these political, legal and financial troubles bearing down on him all at once, but that's how it is. He badly needs a reboot of his campaign rollout and this is exactly the sort of boost that could get the media talking about him again and get his followers re-engaged. For him it's always been about attention, and he's never much cared what kind. So what if he's the first former president in U.S. history to be referred for possible federal prosecution? That just makes him even more special than he already is! Perversely enough, this could be the start of Trump's latest comeback. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Donald Trump Elon Musk Jan. 6 Committee Justice Department