Is Teflon Don coming unstuck? Don't bet on it

Despite being found liable of sexual assault, Donald Trump seems set to steamroll his way to the presidential nomination in 2024

Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire on April 27, 2023. Reuters
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Anyone who's bought a non-stick frying pan knows how fragile the Teflon coating can be. An overzealous poke with a metal spatula and that miraculously non-adhesive sheen starts to sully. Before you know it, bits of food are coagulating on the bottom of the pan.

This week, a legal spatula in the form of a New York jury served Donald Trump a verdict: he was found liable for sexually assaulting the writer E Jean Carroll in the 1990s and then defaming her after she wrote about the incident. He now owes Ms Carroll $5 million in damages.

Finally, pundits said, the man nicknamed Teflon Don no longer has a protective veneer.

Observers noted that the businessman who declared bankruptcy six times, was twice impeached as president and who continues to try to undermine the 2020 presidential election results is facing a moment of legal reckoning that will hinder him as he runs for the White House in 2024.

But there's just one snag in that hypothesis: None of it matters to Mr Trump's Republican base. Not one jot.

On Wednesday night, it became clear that his slippery coating remains very much intact. In fact, whatever force field protects the former president from consequences, it's tougher than Teflon.

At a Republican presidential question-and-answer session in New Hampshire, hosted by CNN, it was obvious to anyone watching that Mr Trump will continue to lie, deflect and attack his way to becoming his party's nominee to run against Democrat Joe Biden in 2024.

So fluent is he in his falsehoods and misdirections that it is almost impossible to push back. CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins made a valiant attempt, but such was the drenching from the fire hose of misinformation that even her on-the-spot fact checks were quickly washed away.

Watching the Republican presidential town hall discussion, it struck me as altogether possible that Mr Trump will steamroll his way back into the White House.

Polls in a hypothetical matchup have him neck-and-neck with Mr Biden, who faces deep unpopularity even from within the Democratic Party as Americans remain concerned about high prices, rising levels of violence and the precarious economy.

Complicated times demand nuanced solutions, but where the Biden administration offers multifaceted responses, Mr Trump delivers simple, black-and-white messages that appeal to an electorate looking for easy fixes. It matters little that what he is saying is clearly absurd.

If re-elected, Mr Trump said he would end the war in Ukraine within one day.

“Within 24 hours, that war will be settled. It'll be over. It'd absolutely be over,” he said, to whoops and enthusiastic applause. He refused to say if he wanted Ukraine or Russia to win the war, offering only that he wanted “everybody to stop dying”.

So, having solved Europe's worst conflict since the Second World War, how would Mr Trump tackle the complex problem of inflation that spiked in the wake of the pandemic?

That's easy.

“Drill, baby, drill,” Mr Trump said, talking about the importance of energy independence, before riffing on his ludicrous canard that the US enjoyed “probably the greatest economy in the history of the world” when he was president.

Mr Trump has now been found liable of sexual assault — though cleared of rape — in the civil case brought by Ms Carroll. A jury agreed with her claim that Mr Trump accosted her in the changing room of a New York department store in the 1990s.

But for the former president, it's all a joking matter.

Instead of reflecting on the gravity of the verdict or offering women voters an olive branch, the man who has previously been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of other women doubled down on the type of comment that led to him also being found liable of defamation.

“What kind of a woman meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes, you're playing hanky-panky in a dressing room?” Mr Trump said, adding that Ms Carroll was a “whack job”.

The audience applauded and laughed in delight.

That reaction matters. New Hampshire is an early nominating state that could prove critical in Mr Trump's push to return to the White House.

A lot can happen between now and election day in November 2024, but right now it seems like Mr Biden's energies and effectiveness are fading just as Mr Trump is picking up steam. We are in for interesting times.

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Published: May 11, 2023, 3:47 AM
Updated: May 14, 2023, 1:35 PM