Donald Trump is aware of the camera. He is particular about angles, lighting, and his signature orange hair. But on Tuesday, in a New York courtroom, the camera will become his tormentor as Trump, once the world’s most powerful man, is ordered to provide a mug picture like any other felon.
The first reality TV personality elected president of the United States, as well as the first president to be impeached twice and try to overthrow an election, has now been charged with a crime. The 76-year-old must be photographed, fingerprinted, and make a plea to charges resulting from a 2016 hush money payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels.
The impact is already being felt. There are signs that Trump’s legal issues are pushing him to new heights. Trump has never been a traditional politician, but his divisive brand of populist nationalism is becoming more intense and extreme.
His presidential campaign in 2024 is adopting violent language that could inflame tensions and set America on a collision course. Barricades have been erected around New York’s courtrooms. Daniels postponed a television interview scheduled for Friday due to “security concerns.” Trump’s campaign rhetoric and social media attacks on his opponents are laced with race-baiting and anti-Semitic conspiracy assumptions.
“There’s nothing traditional about Donald Trump and there never has been, but we’ve never been in this situation before and what’s different now is how polarised we are,” said Frank Luntz, a pollster who has worked on numerous Republican election campaigns. “This is like lighting a match in the middle of a bonfire that’s been doused with gasoline. I’m afraid that we’re lighting a match and we’re going to see on Tuesday what happens.”
For just a moment, it seemed that this time would be different. Trump started his 2024 election campaign at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last November with unusually low energy, avoiding his stolen election lies and saying, “We’re going to keep it very elegant.”
He then went unusually silent before launching a small-scale campaign, releasing policy proposals, and recruiting employees in early-voting states. Unlike his chaotic 2016 campaign, his campaign team looked to be well-organized. The Hill website observed: “Former President Trump is doing something shocking – he’s running a campaign that is starting to look quite conventional.”
But, just as hopes for Trump’s rise to the presidency were repeatedly dashed, so was this suddenly orthodox contender. The trigger came two days after he became the first candidate to hit the campaign route for the 2024 presidential election, giving unremarkable speeches in the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.