This must feel like the year that won’t end for former President Donald Trump, whose actions appear to be catching up with him in public, painful and expensive ways.
Trump is infamous for escaping accountability, but he’s been put under the microscope in the second half of 2022 in a way that has complicated things for the 2024 contender.
The FBI searched his Florida resort, where classified documents were seized. His business was found guilty of criminal tax fraud. Documents relating to his tax returns were released by House Democrats, who are expected to release his actual returns before turning over the committee gavel next year to Republicans, who won a smaller-than-expected majority under Trump’s influence. Many candidates Trump backed failed in key Senate races, costing Republicans a majority in that chamber.
The former president himself hasn’t been charged with any crimes. But a special counsel has been appointed at the Justice Department to oversee two Trump-related investigations – surrounding the hoarding of documents at Mar-a-Lago and the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
Trump has railed against the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, and his most ardent supporters tried to stonewall it, but it’s hard to objectively dismiss its damning 800-page detailed report, which spells out his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and his role inspiring rioters to attack the Capitol.
And though the committee’s criminal referrals of Trump to the Justice Department are largely symbolic, the former president still has to wait and see what comes of the DOJ’s own twin probes.
In the meantime, there’s no sign that the former president – who launched his third nonconsecutive presidential bid last month – has done much to clear the GOP field, with other hopefuls mulling their options over the holidays.
String of setbacks
The ongoing end-of-year revelations chipping away at Trump’s facade of power include large developments like the January 6 committee report – and smaller details.
Hidden in court documents is the inconvenient truth that even his loudest acolytes on Fox News knew his 2020 election fantasy was false.
Sean Hannity, the Fox News opinion host, admitted he didn’t “for one second” believe the fraud claims he helped push.
It might be nice for Fox viewers to hear that from Hannity, but the admission came off the air and in a deposition as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the conservative network, according to the New York Times.
Hannity, as we know from text messages, was in close contact with Trump’s then-chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in the days leading up to January 6.
That the conservative elites in Trump’s circle knew the truth adds context to the fears of fraud they pushed to encourage Republican lawmakers to pass new election security laws in key states.
The truth about taxes
The release of Trump’s tax information, without his consent, by House Democrats confirmed what anyone could have guessed – that he paid no federal income tax in a year when he was leading the country.
Even in years like 2018, where he paid about $1 million in federal taxes, the rate he paid, a bit more than 4%, was on par with the bottom half of American taxpayers.
The special tax rules for real estate barons, which Congress can’t seem to address, help explain why Trump’s tax bill looks so different than that of regular wage-earning Americans. But the end result is that the former president looks like a tax avoider.
Trump broke with tradition in 2016 by refusing to release any of his personal tax returns. But his team immediately tried to weaponize the release of his information. “If this injustice can happen to President Trump, it can happen to all Americans without cause,” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said last week.
Popularity slipping among Republicans
Trump made sure his influence was felt during the 2022 midterms, but after Republicans failed to secure a “red wave,” some members of his party have blamed him for the GOP’s poor showing.
He must now grapple with polls like CNN’s from earlier this month, which showed that most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want the party to nominate someone other than Trump in 2024. Their top pick for an alternative? Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The GOP governor, who won a resounding reelection last month, enjoyed much stronger favorability ratings than Trump among Republicans, according to the CNN survey.
That’s bad news for a man who jumped out in front of the 2024 Republican field and launched another presidential bid at the precise moment he began to appear politically weak.
Even his most ardent supporters are growing tired of some of his antics. The $99 Trump-themed digital trading cards timed the NFT market all wrong and drew ridicule even from his most loyal supporters.
“I can’t do this any more,” complained Stephen Bannon, the former adviser who was sentenced to four months in jail for contempt of Congress after ignoring a subpoena from the January 6 committee. (He’s appealed that conviction.)
2023 may not be much better
Many of the issues that dogged Trump in 2022 won’t be over with the start of the new year – and could even escalate.
His business, convicted of tax fraud in late 2022, also faces civil charges from the New York attorney general in 2023.
On the election-stealing front, it’s not just Special Counsel Jack Smith that Trump has to worry about. An Atlanta-area special grand jury investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election in the Peach State has already begun writing its final report, CNN reported earlier this month. That will serve as a mechanism for the panel to recommend whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should pursue indictments.
While Trump envisions himself returning to the White House, one of the final bipartisan efforts lawmakers agreed on this month was an update to the Electoral Count Act, making clear that attempts like Trump’s after 2020 – to exploit antiquated language in federal election law and undermine the Electoral College – can never occur again.