De Niro is proof Democrats are starting to get it: Take the fight to Donald Trump

Robert De Niro and Harry Dunn showed up to court with a few reminders too many Americans need

By Brian Karem


Published May 30, 2024 9:00AM (EDT)

US actor Robert De Niro speaks in support of US President Joe Biden outside of Manhattan Criminal Court as former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends his criminal trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments in New York City, on May 28, 2024. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
US actor Robert De Niro speaks in support of US President Joe Biden outside of Manhattan Criminal Court as former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends his criminal trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments in New York City, on May 28, 2024. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

“I’m like Uranium 238,” James Carville, the Ragin’ Cajun, once told me, “not quite stable.”

His recent whining about some women in the Democratic Party who he perceives as whiners may serve as a case in point. But Carville’s assessment of his character aside, he cannot hold a torch to the instability we’ve seen in Manhattan recently.

Robert De Niro showed up outside the Manhattan courthouse where Donald Trump’s infamous hush-money trial went into closing arguments this week. It was, according to those who were in attendance, a “Circus sideshow complete with clowns.” Of course, the witness I was speaking to was talking about the Republicans – or what passes for a Republican these days. Donald Trump’s clowns show up in Manhattan dressed just like him, preach that dear Donny Darko has been wronged by a weaponized justice system and will be among the first to change their tune — though not their ubiquitous blue suits, white shirts and red ties — should the jury find the highest ranking member of the MAGA party innocent of all charges. So De Niro showed up to bolster the Democrat’s warnings about the dangers of the “One of Us” crowd of MAGA sympathizers.

De Niro called Trump a bully and a fake tough guy – and I can personally attest to the accuracy of both statements. Also outside the courtroom, former Capital police officer Harry Dunn talked about the real issues brought about by the insurrection four years ago at a time when the MAGA crowd would like to rewrite history. It wasn’t a peaceful protest. It wasn’t a protest at all. It was an attempted coup.

“It’s not that I don’t agree with De Niro,” Dunn said. “I agree with everything he said. But I’m here to remind people of the facts, of what really happened on January 6. I was there.”

MAGA and Democrats put on dueling press events while the main event went on inside the courtroom.  And, the pure bedlam outside of the courtroom vaguely resembled the spectacle Trump tried to conjure up inside the courtroom. But, after five weeks of prognostication, punditry, speculation, witness statements, conjecture, testimony, acrimony, incendiary speech and posturing, Trump’s fate rests in the hands of 12 ordinary, flesh and blood Americans. They ended their first day of deliberation asking for selected testimony from former Trump associates David Pecker and Michael Cohen but adjourned without reaching a verdict.

For many, 2024 is one of the last elections in which the Boomers could play a decisive part in the outcome.

For those who’ve covered Trump, it’s just another day in the saddle. For the rest of the world, it’s a vivid reminder of the volatile, dangerous nature of another Trump administration.

Trump, forever the false prophet, continues to rail against the Department of Justice while admitting he’d rig it in his favor should he return to power. He aligned himself with the Heritage Project’s authoritarian “Project 2025,” although his campaign is suddenly trying to disassociate from the far-right proposal,  and said he’d be a dictator from day one if elected to a second term. 

At the same time, he continues to throw himself a great pity party, wraps himself in his solipsistic view of victimhood, wailing like a banshee and gnashing his teeth in anger. In other words, it’s a typical Trump day in the public eye.

Trump’s status as a candidate will likely not change should he be found guilty. He’s still eligible to run as leader of this democracy and many of his cult followers will not change horses even if the horse is a convicted felon - though it should be noted you cannot serve your country in the armed forces if you’re a convicted felon. Trump doesn’t mind. He has no plans to serve anyone – but himself.

So De Niro is right to call out Donald Trump as a wannabe tough guy. De Niro certainly has made a boatload of money playing heavies and knows what he’s talking about. It also shows that the Democrats are finally taking the fight to Donald Trump. The “they go low and we go high” crowd has been replaced by those who are willing to get down in the mud and get themselves dirty. They are the political descendants of James Carville. 

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You don’t have to abandon your principles but it is certainly beneficial to thump a bully in the nose and let them know you’re not going to take any more of their stupidity, intolerance and corruption. In the appearance vs. reality debate, the Democrats are finally understanding they need to destroy the appearance that Trump is a strong man and expose him for the weak-kneed charlatan that he is.

And, ultimately, I think it’s going to be up to the generation of which Trump is a member to make the difference: the Baby Boomer generation. The leading edge of this generation entered adulthood about the time John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The trailing edge of the generation – of which I am a member – came of age at the time John Lennon was gunned down.In between we watched Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Bobby Kennedy die by the hands of assassins. We endured the Vietnam War, listened to some really good music, made love and got war. The Boomer generation is not, “The Greatest Generation” and we’ve been extremely spotty in choosing our leadership. We embraced trickle down economics and we’ve embraced stupidity. We defined the “Me” generation.

Most of that generation has a few regrets which weigh heavy upon them – even if they won’t admit to them. All I’m saying is if we want to make a difference, for many, 2024 is one of the last elections in which the Boomers could play a decisive part in the outcome. We need to be Indiana Jones and choose wisely, not the Nazi who chose poorly – or poorly chose a Nazi.

Take a look at younger voters with some experience who are now fighting to make a difference. The Boomers could learn from them. Dunn, part of that generation, is donating his time to travel the country and act like a modern-day Paul Revere – reminding everyone what is at stake in 2024. “When you have truth and facts on your side, you can accomplish a lot,” Dunn explained to me. “I ignore the hecklers. I’m not going to even acknowledge them. I just consider the source.”

The source of most of that heckling is insecurity, fear and the mistaken belief that Trump can accomplish anything – when he has accomplished nothing. Worse, Trump has tried to keep the government from accomplishing anything so he can blame Biden for the lack of accomplishments and get re-elected. On the border, Trump and his MAGA party have, as recently as last week, blocked bipartisan legislation to deal with immigration problems on the Southern Border. The failure of the MAGA party to deal with this is a direct threat to national security.

This week, National Security spokesperson, former Admiral John Kirby spoke broadly of the problem the country faces. “The President doesn't make decisions and he doesn't execute on policy based on public opinion polling or on popularity contests.  He bases his decisions on our own national security interests - what's at stake for our safety and security here at home and abroad.  And what's in the best interests of our - of our allies and partners,” Kirby said from the Brady Briefing Room podium.

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There are those who fear that with all that Biden has done, he could still lose to Trump – who in the eyes of his supporters is invincible – the true Teflon Don. 

Does Dunn think Biden can win? He’s spent time out on the road talking to voters, and says, “yes, I think he’s going to win. He has to. There’s the optimism in me. I just think American people are going to do the right thing. It’s all hands on deck. We need everyone participating in our democracy to preserve it.” 

Still, Dunn and anyone who has spent any time covering, talking to or standing for even five minutes in the same room as Donald Trump isn’t surprised by anything he has done. He has vowed to pardon Jan. 6 rioters, level the DOJ and institute loyalty tests for federal employment. “It sucks, but are you kidding me?” Dunn explained. “I expect it, Of course he’s going to do every reprehensible thing you can imagine. Like George Bush once said, fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice? I won’t get fooled again.”

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? The Who references aside, the Democrats ultimately need to continue to take pages from James Carville’s playbook – even as the aging strategist angers some Democrats. “We’re Right. They’re Wrong” was the title of the book he wrote in which he praised the Republicans for their work ethic while condemning them for their message. “I get them,” Carville said Wednesday night at a party in Los Angeles honoring the First Amendment. “But I don’t like them. We need to out fight them.”

Efforts by people like Harry Dunn and Robert De Niro outline the strategy Carville embraces: Out work them with better ideas and better communication.

“If we can do that, it’s not even close,” Dunn said.

“If” is a pretty big condition. “‘If,’ isn’t an option,” Carville told me. “We have to do this.”

Next week Dunn will be on the road with other Biden surrogates, traveling to swing states trying to persuade people to vote for the president instead of Donald Trump. Carville will be on the road trying to fundraise for Democratic candidates while putting the finishing touches on a documentary about his life. That both men are working so energetically against the authoritarian forces rising in this country speaks volumes about the need to be politically active and also speaks volumes about the gullibility of the American electorate, many of whom still do not understand what the fight this fall is all about. 

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Biden Campaign Commentary Donald Trump Elections 2024 Harry Dunn James Carvile Maga Robert De Niro Trump Trial