Jun 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump's survive-the-unsurvivable plan

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Never in the history of American politics has one man survived and even thrived off more terrible news than Donald Trump.

Why it matters: The former president has racked up impeachments, investigations, and indictments at a pace never seen in America. Yet he persists — and often comes out stronger.

Between the lines: Trump has had a lot of practice surviving the unsurvivable. So his team has developed a playbook to repeat during bad news.

  • Pre-release: Trump will preempt any damaging announcement by releasing new information himself beforehand to try to blunt the impact of coming revelations.
  • Whataboutism: Trump will try to muddy the waters by pointing to any mistakes — real, exaggerated, or false — by his opponents.
  • Martyrdom: He will tell his supporters that any allegations against him are part of a larger conspiracy against his cause to fight the establishment.
  • Solidarity: Even before all the facts are known, Trump has his allies hit the airwaves to claim that he is innocent or his enemies are corrupt.
  • Shamelessness: Trump never hides or acts embarrassed, even in the face of damning information.
  • Flood the zone online: Trump's team prepares large volumes of content ahead of time to pump out on social media.
  • Raise big money: Never waste a chance to raise money — especially if the Justice Department indicts him for obstruction and mishandling classified materials.
  • Go apocalyptic: "In the end, they’re not coming after me, they’re coming after you — and I'm just standing in their way," Trump said Saturday at a rally in Columbus, Ga., in his first appearance since the Florida indictment. He also said: "This is the final battle."

The big picture: Trump is the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. He's the only former president to be indicted on federal charges. And he expects to be indicted at least once more — this time as part of his efforts to overturn his election loss in 2020.

Zoom in: Former and current Trump aides often don't defend Trump’s conduct — but believe that politics are on his side in part because of his ability to frame himself as a martyr for his voters' larger cause.

  • One former Trump White House official described it as: "He becomes Dorothy exposing the Wizard of Oz rather than an alleged criminal. And it feeds into the persecuted feeling a lot of his base feels."

Backstory: Trump's line at his Georgia rally on Saturday — which had been in the bio of his Truth Social page — is a riff on a popular online meme that Donald Trump Jr., among others, reshared this week:

Zoom out: Even as the recent federal indictment is the most serious threat to Trump so far, allies argue that the playbook will work once again and that the indictments actually help his chances to become the GOP nominee in 2024.

Go deeper: Listen to the Axios Today podcast, where host Niala Boodhoo and Alex Thompson analyze reactions to Trump's federal indictment from the former president and his supporters.

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