Donald Trump has been written off prematurely many times. Even after the attack by his supporters on the US Capitol on January 6th last year, Trump continued to be the dominant figure in the Republican Party.
A little over a month ago Trump announced he was running again for the White House. However, over the last few weeks the status of the former president has appeared to weaken as he experienced a succession of blows.
The latest came on Thursday when it emerged prosecutors had urged a federal judge to hold Trump’s political office in contempt for allegedly failing to comply with a subpoena to return all classified documents in his possession.
This was the latest twist in the controversy which saw Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and club in Florida raided by the FBI seeking material which he allegedly took without authorisation from the White House.
Trump is facing legal pressure on a number of fronts just as there are growing doubts about his political star quality after disappointing midterm elections for the Republican Party which saw several of his handpicked candidates lose out.
Last month, attorney general Merrick Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith to oversee the department of justice’s investigation into the January 6th attack in Washington as well as Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents.
Earlier this week Smith served subpoenas on officials in a number of states for documents as part of an investigation into alleged attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.
Separately this weekend, the US congressional committee investigating the January 6th attacks will determine whether to make criminal referrals to the department of justice in respect of Trump and a number of supporters.
Trump has had other legal setbacks. His four-year battle to prevent Democrats in the US Congress from getting access to his tax returns ended in defeat in the supreme court. The former president had refused to release this material on the grounds he was under audit. The tax returns are now in the hands of the powerful House of Representatives Ways and Means committee and may become public at some point.
At the start of December a federal court closed down Trump’s legal action which had slowed down the department of justice investigation into the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago.
And earlier this week a jury in New York found two Trump companies guilty in relation to a tax fraud scheme which saw senior executives receive “off the books” benefits such as cars, apartments of school fees. Trump was not indicted as part of this process but his business is likely to face a fine of up $1.6 million.
In parallel with the legal difficulties for Trump came the political problems.
After criticising the former president after the January 6th attack on the Capitol, some top Republicans, such as party leader in the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, had quickly moved to make peace. The party establishment determined they needed to keep Trump’s base of loyal supporters on board.
Trump then essentially intervened in the midterm election cycle, supporting candidates he considered loyal and who backed his claims that the 2020 election had been rigged, for which no evidence has been accepted by any court.
However, while Trump’s preferred candidates in the main won internal party primary elections, in the contests with their Democrat opponents in November they tended to fare less well.
Rather than being a kingmaker, Trump saw candidates he backed fail. They included Mehmet Oz losing out for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania and Kari Lake failing in a bid to become governor in Arizona.
On Tuesday, Trump’s hand-picked candidate for the Republicans in Georgia, Herschel Walker, lost in a run-off election, increasing the Democrats’ majority in the Senate.
All the while, Trump remained largely at Mar-a-Lago despite declaring his candidacy for the White House several weeks ago – leaving some to question his real enthusiasm for the contest.
Some of his guests at his Florida home and club, as well as comments he has made from there, caused considerable controversy.
In November he had dinner with rap artist Kanye West (now known as Ye) who has been strongly criticised for anti-Semitic comments. He also dined with white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. Earlier this week Trump posed for photographs with a prominent QAnon conspiracy theorist.
Last weekend he issued a social media post suggesting the “termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” in order to reinstate him as president or hold a new election.
In the wake of the election losses and the erratic behaviour, questions are being raised among some Republicans as to whether Trump is an electoral asset or a liability as the political cycle moves towards 2024.