Opinion | Time Flies When You’re Being Convicted


Gail Collins: Bret, since we last conversed Donald Trump was convicted on 34 felony charges. Time sure flies. Any thoughts?

Bret Stephens: Gail, I yield to nobody in my loathing for La Panza Naranja, particularly since he stole my grand old party from me. But this conviction, from a flimsy and convoluted case that should never have been brought and may ultimately be reversed on appeal, probably improves his chances of winning in November.

Now tell me I’m totally wrong.

Gail: Well, I’ve never thought the trial would have much of an impact on the political divide in this country. Trump is what he is, and after all the previous scandals there wasn’t much that could shake people’s opinion. (Did sort of enjoy imagining how he must have felt sitting there while Stormy Daniels described his inept lovemaking.)

Bret: Rulers make bad lovers, as Stevie Nicks might say.

Gail: But there’s that mushy middle group that everybody’s targeting. All those guilty verdicts must have discouraged the not-totally-committed Trump folks at least a tad. And more important, they tarnished his image as a winner.

So I’d argue that maybe you’re not totally right.

Bret: You might be right that it moved them, but in the wrong direction.

He instantly raised close to $35 million off the verdict. And I doubt that anyone previously inclined to vote for him will now be swayed to vote for President Biden because Trump fiddled with the books seven years ago to cover up a tawdry affair from more than a decade earlier and got convicted in a case brought by a progressive prosecutor in a liberal jurisdiction through an obscure law. The verdict plays to Trump’s argument that the system is out to get him. And it sets a precedent that will come back to haunt Democrats when partisan Republican prosecutors return the favor, as I’m sure they will.

By the way, do you think he should go to prison for this?

Gail: My emotional side would love it, but first offenders in their late 70s charged with a nonviolent offense just don’t go there. It’s a nonviolent crime, and sticking him at Rikers Island in the run-up to the election would make everything worse.

Bret: So the net effect of this is basically zero. Liberals get to call Trump a felon. MAGA people get to call him a martyr. And the campaign goes on ….

Gail: I’m gonna sigh deeply and move on to Justice Samuel Alito.

Bret: Do you agree with Representative Jamie Raskin’s essay in The Times arguing that the Justice Department should petition the Supreme Court to require Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse themselves from Jan. 6 cases?

Gail: Yeah, as well as all cases in which a defendant has tried to present the misdeed as his wife’s fault. Everyone knows judges have opinions on many issues that come up in court. But you don’t put up a sign in your front yard advertising it.

You’re a little more sympathetic to Alito, aren’t you?

Bret: Well, if the standard is that judges who tip their hand about their opinions should recuse themselves, Ruth Bader Ginsburg should have done so after she called Trump a “faker” in a 2016 interview. Instead, she apologized, moved on and ruled on every case in which he came up, which was the right thing to do. I also find it semi-comical that the Pine Tree “Appeal to Heaven” flag that flew outside of the Alitos’ second home — and that is supposed to be so insurrectionary — was also found flying outside of San Francisco City Hall.

The larger story for me is that this is another example of liberals wasting their political ammunition on a non-scandal that makes them seem petty and hypocritical and is of interest to nobody outside of progressive precincts in Brooklyn.

How about a real scandal like, um, Hunter Biden’s forthcoming trial?

Gail: Well, you start out with the premise that Hunter concealed his drug use when he bought a gun. I’m not crazy about anybody purchasing firearms, but I’m certainly opposed to armed drug addicts.

Then you move on to a stupendous amount of debt the president’s son has rolled up. All in all, it’s going to be a treat for the president’s political enemies.

But there’s been no evidence that Joe Biden had any involvement in the scandal, and that’s all that matters to most Americans.

Bret: Joe Biden denied that he had anything to do with his son’s business dealings, which amounted to $17 million in foreign income during a period when, at times, he was smoking crack “every 15 minutes, seven days a week,” by his own admission. What exactly was he being paid for? Then it turned out that Joe allowed himself to be put on the phone with Hunter’s business partners, a not-so-subtle way of selling the appearance of access to his dad. And the president recently paid a visit to Hallie Biden — his son Beau’s widow and, later, Hunter’s romantic partner — despite the fact that she is a witness in the trial. Bottom line, this may not be Jared Kushner-level influence peddling, but it isn’t a nothing-burger, either.

But whatever happens to Hunter, both of us want his dad to win in November. If you had to write a campaign slogan for him, what would it be?

Gail: Hmm.

Bret: As in, Presidents Who Make You Go Hmmm?

Gail: Suck It Up, People, And Do The Right Thing?

Bret: Senescence over Recrudescence?

Gail: I’ve been a little at sea on that question of how to sell his campaign. Biden’s not very popular, even with groups that should be cheerleading for him. A rational part of that is the age issue, and although Trump is only a few years younger, he radiates a more youthful — or at least less elderly — image.

As you know, I think Biden’s done a fine job as president. The economy’s doing very well, but it’s a challenge to get people to realize that. Don’t suppose “The Comeback Kid” would work, but something sending that message.

You’re good at that kind of thing — give me a spin.

Bret: I’d advise him to own up to his supposed weaknesses and repackage them as strengths. As in:

Something like that. Or is that all too negative?

Gail: Love them all. And let me toss in one more: “Biden’s Got Guts. And He’s Not Nuts.” You know, I could really imagine your choice one on TV this summer.

Bret: OK, so here’s another: “Restore reproductive rights. Abort a second Trump term before it’s too late.”

Gail: Definitely agree with the sentiment, but I suspect there’s a better way to sell it. On a totally different subject, did you notice that Senator Joe Manchin has declared himself an independent? I know it’s my obsession, but this vote independent stuff drives me crazy.

Bret: A shame the Democrats moved so far to the left that he couldn’t stay in the party. Now if only the last remaining sane Republicans would also defect from the G.O.P. and create a serious new party.

Gail: In presidential elections, independent candidates aren’t serious options — they’re just a way for somebody to get attention while screwing up the outcome. Right now R.F.K. Jr. is my prime example.

Bret: I have a feeling that Kennedy is going to be less of a factor in November than some of us feared. He needs to get his name on ballots, his veep pick has an, um, interesting past, and, as our colleague Michelle Goldberg pointed out in a terrific essay in April, Kennedy probably draws at least as much support from potential Trump voters as he does from Biden’s.

Gail: I don’t do the who-will-the-independent-hurt-most game. You can’t tell, and if the losing side leaves the election feeling they were robbed, it can be a drag on the next administration. Particularly if you’ve got a loser who doesn’t admit he’s a loser when he loses.

Bret: Don’t you miss the days when “The Biggest Loser” was about weight loss?

Gail: Sigh. Well it’s time to go, Bret. And I think we need a moving quote from somebody who never ran for anything.

Bret: How about your dog? Or mine?

Hands down, the most moving piece published in The Times in recent days was Sam Anderson’s captivating story — delightfully illustrated by Gaia Alavi — about his longhaired miniature dachshund Walnut, Walnut’s rescue of the family hamster Mango, Anderson’s emotional recovery from the death of his old dog Moby, Mango’s own untimely passing, and the altogether miraculous way these furry members of our families bring out the best and most tender parts in each of us.

And now I’m going to take our glorious goldendoodle for a walk in the fields.

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