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New trial hits Trump’s image as the ultimate winner


It’s where the “art of the deal” could be exposed as the “art of the steal.”
It’s where the “art of the deal” could be exposed as the “art of the steal.”

Donald Trump couldn’t stay away from the opening of his civil fraud trial in New York on Monday. But the choreographed motorcade of Secret Service SUVs, rants about politicized persecution and courtroom scowls went deeper than his now familiar attempts to turn his dates with justice into fodder for his 2024 campaign.

This time, the real estate shark was back in his old hunting grounds to defend his threatened empire, the Manhattan skyscraper bearing his name in big gold letters and ultimately the mythology of his career as a billionaire tycoon that nurtured his fame and insurgent rise to the White House. Being impeached twice is bad. Facing 91 criminal charges is terrible. But the fraud case in New York threatens to shred Trump’s cherished self-image as an ultimate winner. That may be worst of all for the ex-president who still touts his golf resorts, hotels, planes and businesses in campaign speeches as proof of what he sees as his stellar business acumen.

“It’s a scam, it’s a sham. Just so you know, my financial statements are phenomenal,” Trump said before the trial opened.

The paraphernalia of wealth is not simply about boosting Trump’s self-esteem. It is integral to his political appeal. While his history of bankruptcies, legal reversals and scandals has punctured his image among voters who disdain him, Republicans who love Trump still buy into his iconography as a hard charging businessman. That image was sent into overdrive by NBC’s “The Apprentice,” which helped turn the star of a reality show into a president and modern American demagogue. Taking kids on helicopter rides at the Iowa state fair or directing pilots of his personalized 757 to circle the field before airport rallies as speakers blare the theme to the movie “Air Force One” are all part of the theater that Trump concocts to portray himself as the ultimate self-made man who got rich despite elites spurning him for years.

This idea was encapsulated by one of his attorneys in court on Monday, who argued that far from inflating his wealth, her client may have played it down by not including the value of his image. “There would have been the brand, the same brand that got that man elected president,” Alina Habba said. “There’s a lot of people in this room that probably don’t like that, and that’s why we are here.”

So while this trial could punish Trump’s family by imposing huge financial and business penalties, and even lead to the break-up of his New York business and disposal of his buildings, it is about far more than punishments for the ex-president. It is taking aim at Trump’s core.

“They’re hitting him where it hurts,” one source told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins about Trump’s decision to attend the trial on Monday.

Letitia James – the New York attorney general who brought the case seeking at least $250 million in fines and seeks to prevent the Trump Organization from operating in the state – showed again Monday that she’s one of the rare Trump enemies who gets under his skin. “No matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law,” James said before court.

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