The Sheer Absurdity At The Heart Of Trump’s Historic First Criminal Trial

INSIDE: Juan Merchan ... Chris Sununu ... Robert MacNeil
Former US President Donald Trump waves as he departs Trump Tower for Manhattan Criminal Court, to attend the first day of his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, in New... Former US President Donald Trump waves as he departs Trump Tower for Manhattan Criminal Court, to attend the first day of his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, in New York City on April 15, 2024. Trump goes to court Monday as the first US ex-president ever to be criminally prosecuted, a seismic moment for the United States as the presumptive Republican nominee campaigns to re-take the White House. The scandal-plagued 77-year-old is accused of falsifying business records in a scheme to cover up an alleged sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels to shield his 2016 election campaign from adverse publicity. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.

For Real?

Sometimes it pays to take a step back and soak in the sheer absurdity of Trump and the current moment. It remains true that he and his movement are a threat to the Republic and the constitutional order while at the same time being a comical combination of goofy, ridiculous, preposterous, and transparently absurd.

Just look at the alleged pretext for the Stormy Daniels hush money scheme. The “pussy grabbing” Access Hollywood video had just come out in the waning days of the 2016 campaign, creating a crisis that he thought his campaign might not survive if his dalliance with a porn star was made public, too. Let that soak in.

I know that you know what happened next. But have you taken time lately to marvel at the ham-handedness of it all?

Trump’s solution, with the help of the tabloid National Enquirer, was a scheme to pay Daniels for her silence. He actually wrote her checks. Checks! The scheme continued after Trump won the election – while he was in the White House.

For those of us who have endured Republican moralizing for our entire lives, the hush money scheme rips away all the pretensions. Right-wing Christians who have convinced themselves they are a minority under siege in their own country turned for their salvation to a man who is a product of pro wrestling, reality TV, and the mainstreaming of pornography. God bless ’em.

The three big themes of TPM’s trial coverage will be (i) the historic first of a former president on criminal trial; (ii) accountability at long last for Trump himself; (iii) his ongoing corrosive attacks on the rule of law and the justice system.

But the through line here is the absurdism of American politics in the era of Trump.

All Systems Go

Juan Merchan, the trial judge in the New York hush-money case, batted down on Friday Donald Trump’s final attempt to delay today’s start of the trial, and he did so with flourish:

Defendant appears to take the position that his situation and this case are unique and that the pre-trial publicity will never subside. However, this view does not align with reality. In just the past 12 months, Defendant has very publicly been involved in a multitude of criminal and civil cases across several states in both federal and state jurisdictions. In this County alone, Defendant has had two civil trials, one in State Court and the other in Federal Court. In those two matters, he was personally responsible for generating much, if not most, of the surrounding publicity with his public statements, which were often made just a few steps outside the courtroom where the proceedings were being conducted, and with his unrelenting media posts attacking those he perceived to be responsible for his plight. The situation Defendant finds himself in now is not new to him and at least in part, of his own doing.

Buckle up!

TPM’s Coverage Of The Trump Trial

TPM’s Josh Kovensky got in line at the courthouse in Manhattan at 6 a.m. ET, and it turns out that wasn’t early enough. He was just denied entry because there’s no more space for reporters. Dozens of other reporters were similarly turned away.

Only a limited number of reporters are going to be allowed into the courtroom itself during jury selection. The rest of the media horde will be able to monitor it from another room in the building, though that room is now apparently full. Access should ease once the trial proper begins and more reporters are allowed into the courtroom, freeing up more space in the media room. At least that is our hope.

Trump’s New Play For Delay In The MAL Case

Seeking to play his hush money trial off against the Mar-a-Lago documents case, Trump is seeking new delays in the Florida case even though U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon set deadlines in the case with the New York case already in mind.

A Great Read

No one has covered the Christian Right in America any more intensely and relentlessly than Sarah Posner, who I am proud to say has a new piece up at TPM: In Era of Trump, Christian Nationalism Has Many Faces

Iran’s Attack On Israel By The Numbers

The Iranian attack matrix looked like this, according to U.S. officials:

  • approx 170 explosive drones
  • approx 120 ballistic missiles
  • approx 30 cruise missiles
  • launched from four countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen

The allied defense of Israel included:

  • warplanes from Israel, the United States, Britain, France and Jordan
  • two U.S. guided-missile destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean
  • a U.S. Patriot missile defense battery inside Iraq
  • destroying a Houthi ballistic missile on its launchpad in Yemen
  • Joint cooperation among Sunni Arab and Western governments

Note: This is a compendium of reports based almost entirely on U.S. and Israeli government accounts. The historic pattern has been for these kinds of official early accounts to be quite rosy, not very nuanced, and largely unverified (and often unverifiable). So add your own degree of skepticism.

15 Years For Rocha

Ex-U.S. ambassador Victor Manuel Rocha was sentenced to 15 years in prison for working as a Cuba covert agent.

2024 Ephemera

  • AZ-Sen: How Kari Lake has “shifted” her abortion stance.
  • PA-Sen: Donald Trump endorsed former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick, who is running unopposed in the April 23 GOP primary. McCormick lost in the 2022 Senate GOP primary after Trump gave his endorsement to Dr. Oz, angry that McCormick wouldn’t call the 2020 election stolen.
  • NYT/Siena poll: Donald Trump leads Joe Biden, 47%-46% nationwide among likely voters, a narrowing in favor of Biden from late February, where the same polling outfit showed Trump with a 48%-43% lead.

Craven Is As Craven Does

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has been a favorite of TV news bookers for a while now, a somewhat less crazy Republican who provides “balance” without being a loon. But this is what a “reasonable” elected Republican looks like in 2024:

The full thread, with video clips, is accessible here.

Quote Of The Day

I know good and well it’s in Trump’s hands, and he’s got plans. I have no doubt it’s going to explode sometime.

Jerry Dean McLain, 71, the owner of a tree removal service in Oklahoma who put almost his entire nest egg into Trump Truth Social stock and has watched the share price plummet since its IPO last month.

Kansas Governor Vetoes Anti-Trans Bill

Gov. Laura Kelly (D-KS) vetoed a bill banning gender affirming care that was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the GOP-controlled legislature. A veto override attempt is expected in late April.

It ‘Shook Me’

My former colleague Christina Bellantoni reflects on the new movie Civil War.

Robert MacNeil, 1931-2024

MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour anchors Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil at Republican Convention. (Photo by Ed Lallo/Getty Images)

The co-founder and longtime co-anchor of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS died at the age of 93. The Newshour offered its own remembrance.

The Flooding Will Come ‘No Matter What’

A disproportionate number of stories about the climate change, sea level rise, and extreme weather events are set in my native Louisiana. And so it is with this new piece from Abrahm Lustgarten:

Global migration experts say that what is happening in Louisiana is a textbook case of how climate-driven migration begins: First, people resist their new reality. Second, they make modest, incremental adjustments to where they live. Slidell, after all, is still within commuting distance of friends and jobs in St. Bernard Parish to the south. Third, they climb the ladder toward a safer place, rest on a rung for a while, and then continue on, only to be replaced by others worse off than they are, climbing up behind them.

Worth your time.

Barbenheimer Will Never Die. Ever.

Barbie’s Ryan Gosling and Oppenheimer’s Emily Blunt co-star in The Fall Guy, which began shooting months before they ended up at the center of the summer of 2023’s movie mania:

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