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Did you know that only one president has ever been impeached twice?

You did know, of course. That’s because said president’s critics (ahem) are forever reminding people of it.

What those critics usually don’t mention is how odd it is that the offenses for which the man in question was impeached were so different in nature.

If I told you that a certain public official had gotten himself in serious trouble twice, you would assume that both instances had to do with the same sort of malfeasance. Look no further than Sen. Bob Menendez, who dodged a conviction on federal bribery charges in 2017 only to land under federal indictment again in 2023 for—you guessed it—bribery.

It’s an unusual leader who’s capable of committing high crimes or misdemeanors in two distinct genres of corruption. But Donald Trump is an unusual man.

His first impeachment was a case of extortion. Congress approved military aid for Ukraine, but instead of sending the funds overseas expeditiously, Trump withheld them while leaning on President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” in the form of dirt on his likely opponent in the next presidential election.

His second impeachment was a case of fanaticism. Trump couldn’t cope with losing the election so he began howling that he had been a victim of fraud. He spun up his supporters about it so relentlessly that they ended up breaking into the Capitol on January 6 to try to halt the transfer of power.

His first high crime was a product of transactional logic, ice cold in nature. His second was a product of passionate radicalism, red hot by comparison. There may have been more corrupt public figures than him in America’s distant past but no one matches him for versatility.

“Those two crimes actually aren’t that different,” you might reply. “The common thread is ruthlessness in clinging to power.” Which is true: Collectively the two impeachments prove that Trump was willing to do almost anything to avert the humiliation of being tossed out of office, using cool-headed forms of pressure when circumstances permitted and turning to desperate measures when they didn’t. They were distinct means to the same self-interested end.

The odd thing about his current presidential candidacy is that the two sides of his personality, simultaneously transactional and radical to a fault, have never been more apparent than they are at the moment. But this time they don’t add up to a coherent strategy to gain and hold power.

And each side appears to be intensifying.


It may be the case that no candidate in American history has needed money on the eve of a national race as badly as Trump needs it right now. And by “money,” I don’t mean campaign contributions.

Although he needs those too.

Money is overrated in modern presidential politics, especially in a cycle when everyone in the world knows the two parties’ nominees, but it could matter in an election as tight as this one is expected to be. Trump is behind Joe Biden in fundraising at the moment and, alarmingly for him, has seen a fall-off in small-dollar contributions of the sort that propelled him in his two prior runs for office.

And that gap isn’t being filled by wealthy right-wing donors, many of whom have declined to pony up as yet to pro-Trump outside groups or to his fundraising partnership with the Republican National Committee. You can guess why: Per CNBC, “Their reluctance stems, in part, from concerns that the RNC will use the money not to help elect Republicans, but to pay for Trump’s extensive legal fees, sources said.”

His donor problems are trivial, though, relative to the enormous sums he personally owes following the civil judgments against him in the E. Jean Carroll defamation case and the business fraud case in New York. By Timothy Noah’s calculations, he’s on the hook for a total of $539 million—and counting—and although Trump is a very rich man, few men are so rich that they have half a billion dollars in cash in reserve.

On Monday his attorneys revealed that he had approached around 30 different financial firms to underwrite his appeal bond in the fraud case, which would require an outlay of somewhere north of $454 million. Every one turned him down. Next week New York’s attorney general could begin seizing his assets; Trump and his team are reportedly considering a corporate bankruptcy to try to fend her off to whatever extent they can.

He’s a desperate man with gigantic debts, no scruples, and a famously transactional bent who’s more likely than not to be leading the U.S. government in less than a year’s time. And who proved once before that he’s willing to leverage public assets such as military aid to an American ally for personal benefit.

That’s a very bad combination. Between his financial problems, his erratic temperament, his contacts with foreigners, and his oft-stated hostility to the “deep state,” writes Tom Nichols, Trump wouldn’t have a prayer of obtaining a security clearance without the American people, in their infinite wisdom, electing him to an office in which he’s in charge of clearances himself.

Whether he’s already engaged in any furtive quid pro quos to ease his cash crunch is unknown, but the New York Times reports that he’s begun hosting regular dinners at Mar-a-Lago with mega-rich Republican financiers where, allegedly, at least two donors have been asked to make their seven-figure checks to his election effort into eight-figure ones. And many observers have remarked on how his surprising turnabouts on Bud Light and TikTok just so happened to follow meetings he held with well-heeled executives or investors in those companies.

Perhaps it’s all on the up-and-up, with a strict ethical line being drawn between asking for money on behalf of the Republican Party and asking for money for the candidate himself to help him meet his private legal obligations. But, Trump being Trump, none of us would wager very much on that, would we? This is a guy who just had his own daughter-in-law placed in charge of the Republican Party’s piggy bank; he betrays no sense of discerning a meaningful distinction between the GOP’s political interests and his personal interests. (In fairness, neither do most of his fans.) Why wouldn’t he begin promising government favors to fatcats in return for secret help in paying off his debts?

For cripes sake, he’s reportedly thinking of bringing Paul “Grave Counterintelligence Threat” Manafort back to his operation with an eye to “playing a role in fundraising for the presumptive GOP nominee’s campaign.” Having a convicted criminal with ties to Russian intelligence doing “fundraising” for him while he tries to dig himself out of a financial hole sounds like a Resistance fever dream of Trump corruption, but here we are.

Simply put, if you worry that desperation might lead him to remove whatever ethical brake remains on his penchant for ruthless transactionalism without regard for the public good, you’ve never had more reason to worry than you do right now. The only thing stopping him in theory is fear of criminal punishment if he crosses a line, but how will that scare him when he’s one election victory away from thwarting all four of the prosecutions currently pending against him?

At least the transactional side of his personality makes rational sense for someone who’s so self-interested, though. The radical side no longer does.


I posted this in yesterday’s newsletter but here it is again for those who missed it, a snapshot of immense Republican moral and civic decline.

Semafor published a long, painstaking piece on Tuesday recounting how Trump has shifted over the past three years from qualified sympathy for the insurrectionists serving time for January 6 to full-throated hagiography. It’s as much a psychological portrait as it is a political analysis. Reading it reminded me of Trump’s trajectory on the “rigged election” insanity, which began as a cynical attempt to hoodwink the public but seemingly devolved into heartfelt conspiratorial conviction once wackaloons like Sidney Powell got in his ear.

To an unnerving degree he’s a casualty of his own populist feedback loop, a man forever getting high on his own propaganda supply. He plants a seed in the soil of the grassroots right; the seed grows into a poisonous tree, nourished by populist media and influencers; then his base feeds him the fruit until he gets sick. It’s not so much radicalization as self-radicalization.

And one of the sickest things about his embrace of the January 6 convicts is that it’s doing him more harm electorally than good. It can’t be rationalized the way the coup plot of 2020-21 was rationalized: as an abhorrent but logical attempt to hold onto power after defeat. Babbling about the January 6 “hostages” is almost all downside for him.

A CBS News poll released in January found almost two-thirds of Americans oppose pardoning those who forced their way into the Capitol. The share of independents who feel that way is similar; even among Republicans, a third oppose it. A second poll from CNN published a month later found an even more lopsided result, 31-69, when it asked Americans if they favor pardoning “most” of those who were convicted for January 6 offenses. Fully 71 percent of independents dislike the idea, as do 45 percent of Republicans.

One theory we’ve kicked around at The Dispatch is that, because so many voters haven’t followed politics closely for three years, they still have no idea that Trump has embraced the J6ers as tightly as he has. I’m not so sure that’s true, as 77 percent told CNN they believe he’ll try to pardon most of them if he’s reelected. But to the extent that it is true, Team Biden is planning to make sure voters are educated about it. Celebrating insurrectionism will hurt Trump and the GOP this fall, and the former president has every reason to know it.

It’s strategic madness, Noah Rothman notes, wildly irrational. Yet Trump persists in it.

It’s strange because in some ways he’s more clear-eyed about electoral realities than traditional Republicans are. He was quick to ditch Tea Party chatter about entitlement reform when he first ran for president in 2016 and lately has sought the middle ground on federal abortion restrictions in hopes of neutralizing the voter backlash to ending Roe. He’s capable of behaving rationally to maximize his chances of winning at the polls; it’s his transactional side at work, offering Americans moderation on policy in exchange for votes.

So what is he doing slobbering over convicted January 6 criminals, a group whom no one likes except for the sort of diehard MAGA Republican whose vote was already pledged to him? Instead of reminding swing voters of things they liked about his presidency, like grocery prices circa 2019, Trump is reminding them of why they got rid of him in the first place. He may be a “moderate” on policy questions unrelated to immigration, but he remains a dyed-in-the-wool illiberal radical on populist grievances, especially ones that relate to his own personal grievances like the 2020 election. Why?

Shelby Talcott, the author of the Semafor piece, offers a theory: “Since leaving office, he appears more determined than ever to reward and empower loyalists, setting himself up for a second presidency fully on his own terms.” True enough: There’s no more efficient way for Trump to show the army of yes-men he’s recruiting for his next presidency that they’ll be held harmless for committing crimes for his benefit than by holding harmless the last group of populist suckers who did so.

But the flaw in that reasoning is that if his sympathy for the insurrectionists ends up costing him the election, there’ll be no pardons for anyone. Not for them, not for the yes-men, and importantly not for Trump himself.

Another possibility is that he can’t resist praising the J6ers because he can’t help but identify with them. Get a load of this, from his speech to CPAC in February:

Again, insofar as Trump may have conceived of this line originally as a bit of cynical boob bait, his narcissism has probably led him to believe it earnestly at this point. He commiserates with the January 6 convicts because he’s convinced himself that he too is the victim of a vendetta by a corrupt “deep state.” Given how supposedly unfairly he’s been treated, why wouldn’t he be credulous that they’ve been treated unfairly too?

Ultimately, though, I think the explanation for Trump’s self-sabotaging radicalism is simpler: This is what his campaign is about.

Asking him to relinquish his sense of victimhood and vindictive desire for retribution against his antagonists for electoral advantage would be like telling Ronald Reagan in 1980 that he’d stand a better chance of winning in November if he became a Rockefeller Republican. I imagine Reagan would respond to advice like that by asking, “Then what’s the point?”

If you’re on a mission to reduce the power of the federal government and the only way to be in a position to do so is by aborting that mission, you might as well abort your candidacy. It no longer has a purpose.

The same with Trump. He cares about immigration, certainly, but any Republican nominee—even a Reaganite like Nikki Haley—could and would order big changes on the border if elected president. Immigration isn’t the animating cause of Trump’s campaign; revenge on the people who thwarted his coup attempt and oversaw the, ahem, “rigging” of 2020 is the cause. Asking him to turn against the J6ers to earn a few extra votes would be like asking Reagan to abandon conservatism. “Then what’s the point?”

He’ll transact with rich donors all day long on policy, promising them this and that. But when it comes to his retribution campaign and the many conspiracy theories that underlie it, he’s the picture of resolve.


The split in Trump’s personality between radicalism and transactionalism means that, to an unusual degree, it’s anyone’s guess how crazy—or not—his second term might be.

All presidents balance ideological commitments with practical political commitments, but the direction of his administration will be driven by a foul melange of populist authoritarian fanatics on the one hand and clear-eyed rent-seekers cashing in favors on the other.

His first administration was a strange brew along the same lines in some respects, with post-liberal ideologues like Stephen Miller working cheek-by-jowl with bottom-line former bankers like Steven Mnuchin. But the second administration could be much more volatile; consider, for example, Trump’s recent shift on TikTok. Populism requires him to be ruthlessly tough on China, to the point where he once attempted to ban the platform by executive order. But the financial interests of mega-donor Jeff Yass apparently require him to oppose banning the platform, which, interestingly, Trump now does.

Radicalism versus transactionalism. When the two conflict, who wins? That’ll be a recurring question in his second term.

It may be that the two will coexist more easily than I suspect, though. One can imagine Trump taking office next year and invoking the Insurrection Act to suppress left-wing protests while he goes about trying to shepherd through Congress another tax cut that primarily benefits the highest earners. His populist fans will tolerate the latter for the sake of the former while the conservative side of his base will tolerate the former for the sake of the latter.

There’s the new Republican coalition, perhaps—radicals and transactionalists, with no room left for classical liberals. Can’t wait.