Win or lose, US politics could get uglier with Donald Trump

Donald Trump has been found liable for sexual abuse, but if the lead-up to the 2016 election taught us anything it’s that the White House could be his again.

A New York jury has ruled that Trump sexually abused writer E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s, and then defamed her by branding her a liar.

The jurors did not find Trump had raped Ms Carroll, as she alleged.

Trump is the first former US president to be held liable for sexual assault.

Ms Carroll isn’t alone in accusing the former president, but seeing him held accountable left even Dr Emma Shortis, a historian from RMIT with a focus on US politics, surprised.

“I think women are not used to seeing these kinds of decisions,” she told The New Daily.

Speaking to TND, Associate Professor David Smith from the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre said the decision was “significant”, and speaks to historic allegations that have plagued Trump for years.

In 2016, just weeks out from the election a tape of Trump bragging about getting away with sexual assault was leaked.

While shocking, it didn’t really affect his campaign, but the tape was used in court by Ms Carroll’s team.

“Even though that Access Hollywood tape at the time appeared to have no effect at all on Trump’s election prospects, it’s really come back to hurt him,” Professor Smith said.

A screenshot of Donald Trump's post on Truth Social

Donald Trump is blaming the judge and jury for the verdict. Photo: Truth Social

Republicans silent after verdict

Currently, it appears as though nothing can hurt Trump, Professor Smith said. Over the past few months he has been gaining strength within his base and before the Republican primaries.

In a video following the verdict, Trump pointed the finger at the judge and the jury, saying New York was possibly the “worst place” for him to be trialled. He also claimed he has no idea who Ms Carroll is.

He has continued to claim that this is all just part of a witch hunt and he doesn’t even know E. Jean Carroll,” Professor Smith said.

“It’s interesting. He’s continuing to claim this even though he’s just been ordered to pay $3 million to her for defamation.”

The verdict will certainly feed into the witch-hunt narrative, but silence among Republicans vying for the Oval Office is telling.

“it is certainly notable that, with the exception of one candidate who really has no chance, no other Republicans are really attacking him for this [verdict],” Professor Smith said.

“And this really does make it seem like he is very likely to win the Republican nomination.”

Although some Republican senators have said the verdict could bring about challenges for Trump’s run, Dr Shortis says silence from the GOP and presidential hopefuls shows just how effectively he has captured and moulded the party.

“So many people have been expecting the Republican Party to condemn him for so long now and they have consistently refused to do it,” she said.

So the question is: What would Trump have to do in order for the party to condemn him?

Trump on E. Jean Carroll verdict

Could Trump still win the presidency?

If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that anything goes in the race for the White House.

If Trump makes it to the general election, it won’t be his faithful base that determines the outcome.

“There’s a lot of Americans who are really committed to Trump. They just wouldn’t believe anything like this [the verdict],” Professor Smith said.

“There’s a slightly larger group of Americans who are absolutely committed to making sure Trump never gets back in office. But the election will be decided by people who haven’t yet made up their minds.”

Dr Shortis expects Trump to deploy the same tactics he has used not just during his political career, but his whole life.

“He uses legal mechanisms to delay court cases and threaten counter-suits as well. He has a long history of that,” she said.

However, amid the criminal and civil cases Trump has been running from, she gets the sense there’s kind of a “pincer movement” coming for him and he might finally face consequences.

In saying that, Professor Smith notes that unlike other politicians, at this point, Trump is somewhat of a religious figure among his followers.

Fears of  ‘retribution’

A second Trump presidency could bring “retribution”, Professor Smith said.

It’s likely he would “hollow out” the government, as some of his supporters want.

“There’s no doubt he would try to use the machinery of government as much as possible to go after his opponents,” he said.

“It’s almost certain he wouldn’t accept the idea that he’s restricted to one more term as president, so it would probably be a much uglier experience than the first time, and the first time around was pretty ugly.”

Things could also get uglier if Mr Trump were to lose again, in court or in the election.

Dr Shortis said concern for what Trump and his supporters could do when faced with another loss is warranted, especially after the insurrection.

pictured is the crowd from the January 6 insurrection

A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol after Trump claimed the election was stolen. Photo: Getty

“We know how successfully Trump is able to send his followers into an absolute frenzy.

“And I think if you combine that with the volatile and violent atmosphere of American politics right now, you have a really quite dangerous situation.”

Even with the risk of another “catastrophic” situation, the criminal and civil cases, it’s still important there are consequences, Dr Shortis said.

Looking beyond Trump

It’s pretty easy to focus on Trump as an individual, but Dr Shortis said it’s important everyone takes a step back.

“We should sometimes zoom out and see this as part of a bigger kind of broader structural issue with American politics.”

Trump didn’t create or bring racism or misogyny to American politics, but he did enable and encourage it, she said.

“There are reasons that a man who’s been accused by 26 women of assault and abuse was still elected president.”

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