Republicans audition to become Donald Trump's next Michael Cohen

Blinded by ambition, several Republicans in Congress rushed to Trump's Manhattan trial this week to support him

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 15, 2024 9:24AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Michael Cohen (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Michael Cohen (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The much-anticipated testimony by former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen finally arrived this week and from the sound of many of the talking heads on television, it's been a huge disappointment. They were apparently expecting the former president's one-time personal "fixer" to melt down on the stand in a fit of rage or lunge at his former boss. Instead, the carefully prepared Cohen was subdued and succinct, admitting his lies and misdeeds in service of Donald Trump with a sorrowful mien. 

They are all so blinded by ambition and the ecstasy of being in this exciting moment that they fail to see that they are heading down exactly the same humiliating path that led Cohen to that witness stand this week.

The prosecution's case has been meticulously laid out through testimony from the people with whom Trump conspired to create fake news items about his political rivals in 2016 and their scheme to buy up negative stories about him to testimony from his loyal, former assistants creating a timeline delineating what the former president knew and when he knew it. 

And then there was Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who received the hush money payoff, taking the stand to dramatically verify that the story they were trying to suppress was true. All of this has been backed up by a paper trail that even includes handwritten notes by Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg on incriminating documents outlining the crime Trump is charged with committing. 

But the full story is best told through Michael Cohen, who ties all the various strands of the plot together.

In the last two days of direct and cross-examination, Cohen has woven the tale of a nefarious scheme hatched by Trump, a tabloid smear merchant, women with whom the married Trump had sexual relationships along with some lawyers and accountants to illegally suppress information and cook the books to aid Trump's presidential campaign in 2016. Most legal observers think he's done a good job of it, despite the baggage he carries as a convicted felon. (As every TV lawyer has pointed out at least once, witnesses who flip on their co-conspirator bosses are, by definition, not pure and innocent but testify for the government in courtrooms around the country every day.)

At this writing, Cohen is still in the middle of cross-examination by Trump's defense lawyers who appear to be suggesting that Cohen is angry with Trump for failing to pick him for a plum position in the White House so he's lying about his personal plot to spend his own money and lie for him repeatedly, which seems a bit strained. When asked by Trump's attorney why he would have done such things, Cohen replied, "I was deep in the cult of Donald Trump." 

Considering where he is today, there's certainly a lesson in that but it's obvious that some people who should know better are not heeding it. I'm speaking of the elected Republicans who are now making pilgrimages to Manhattan to demonstrate their fealty to the Dear Leader, even down to their clothes and the placement of their flag pins:

Cults often have uniforms, The only thing missing is a red MAGA hat to make it complete.

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I called this last week when I wrote about Florida Senator Rick Scott's appearance in court after Trump was reported to have complained that he was getting no support from the party in his time of need. I expected that the vice presidential wannabes would be making the trek right quick, elbowing each other out of the way to gain his attention. Sure enough, this week we have seen contenders, J.D. Vance, R-Oh., Gov. Doug Burgam, R-N.D., Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fl., and MAGA Trump superfans, Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, GOP presidential alsoran Vivek Ramaswamy and last but hardly least, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson. (South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida had better step it up.) 

These GOP luminaries are supposedly there to provide moral support to the Republican nominee for president. As Vance told Fox News:

“I mean, look, I was there to support a friend. Recognizing that sometimes it’s a little bit lonely to sit up there by yourself, I offered to come in and maybe just be a friendly face in the courtroom. And that’s all I wanted to do."

Please. That's not really what they're there to do for Donald Trump. They come into the courtroom for about 45 minutes or so and then leave and hold a press conference outside. They rant about the trial being a witch hunt and a sham and say all the things Trump is precluded from saying because of the gag order imposed by the judge to stop him from putting the family members of the court employees, the witnesses and jury members in danger. It's a blatant act of defiance of the spirit of the law from a group of people who take an oath to uphold it. Sen. Tuberville, a man with absolutely no filter, told Newsmax that it is a coordinated strategy:

Hopefully, we have more and more senators and congressmen go up every day to represent him and be able to go out and overcome this gag order. And that’s one of the reasons we went, is to be able to speak our piece for President Trump.

Perhaps the most shocking performance of the group so far was Speaker Johnson, the man who is second in line to the presidency, who called the trial a sham and, like most of the others, even lied about the judge's daughter putting her in the cross hairs of the crazy MAGA followers in defiance of the gag order. What a low, low moment for American politics. 

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Trump is naturally very pleased with this unctuous display of sycophancy. He came before the cameras on Tuesday and said “I have a lot of surrogates and they are speaking very beautifully.” If it could be proved that he "directed" them to do this, he would go to jail for violating the gag order but Trump's mob boss style is well-understood. They all know very well what Trump wants them to say without him ever having to tell them. 

All of these grasping sycophants are now "deep in the cult of Donald Trump" just as Michael Cohen was all those years ago. As MSNBC's Chris Hayes so sharply observed yesterday, 

You're watching the next iteration of people auditioning to be the next version of that guy up on the stand ... Here you have this set of people who seem to bear no connection to the ghost of Christmas future of the man on the stand who was himself this supplicant figure and you wonder which one of them is going to end up in the same position.

I think they all are in one way or another. No one escapes unscathed. They are all so blinded by ambition and the ecstasy of being in this exciting moment that they fail to see that they are heading down exactly the same humiliating path that led Cohen to that witness stand this week having to confess to the whole world that he was a fool who destroyed his life trying to please this man who has never cared for anyone but himself.  

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 Congress Donald Trump Gop J.d. Vance Michael Cohen Republicans Tommy Tuberville Trump Trials