Former President Donald Trump, seen in Manhattan Criminal Court May 21,...

Former President Donald Trump, seen in Manhattan Criminal Court May 21, was convicted on 34 felony counts. Credit: AP/Michael M. Santiago

Mark Z. Barabak is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, focusing on politics in California and the West.

When he isn't fetishizing the fictive cannibal Hannibal Lecter — "a wonderful man" — Donald Trump rhapsodizes over the gangster Al Capone.

"He was seriously tough, right?" Trump said of the murderous bootlegging pimp and drug dealer. "If you looked at him in the wrong way, he blew your brains out."

The reverie, twisted as it may be, is an apt one.

Though Capone cut a sanguinary trail broader and wider than the Windy City, the Chicago mobster landed behind bars only after being nailed for tax evasion — certainly the least of his crimes.

So it is with Trump's New York conviction for falsifying business records — "mere pieces of paper," in the words of his thwarted defense counsel.

It's possible, amid the yuckiness and the yucks — too much information about Trump's bedding of Stormy Daniels, snickering accounts of the defendant's courtroom siestas — to lose sight of the wrongdoing at the heart of the case.

Trump paid $130,000 in hush money to cover up his extramarital liaison with Daniels, knowing the facts would very likely cost him the 2016 presidential election if voters found out. (His wife, Melania, was home with their newborn when Trump stepped out on her.)

It's hardly the most egregious of Trump's myriad offenses: pilfering highly classified documents from the White House; trying to strong-arm Georgia's secretary of state into stealing enough votes to overturn Trump's defeat; siccing a deadly mob on the Capitol to reverse the result of the 2020 presidential election.

But thanks to a Florida judge evidently in Trump's back pocket, the blundering of a Georgia prosecutor and a pliant U.S. Supreme Court, none of the ex-president's other criminal cases are likely to reach a jury in time for a verdict before Nov. 5.

Thus, Trump's conviction on 34 felony counts by a Manhattan jury is nonetheless a welcome and important political marker.

Imperfect justice. But justice nevertheless.

The response from many of Trump's fellow Republicans was no less sad or pathetic for its utter predictability.

Falling in line as they dropped to their knees, a parade of vice presidential wannabes — Doug Burgum, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Elise Stefanik among them — decried the verdict as a cosmic miscarriage of justice.

When Larry Hogan, Maryland's former Republican governor and a candidate for U.S. Senate, called on Americans to "respect the verdict and the legal process" — a statement that is not only reasonable and respectful but a kind of political boilerplate — the response from Trump World was telling.

"You just ended your campaign," Trump's consigliere, er, top campaign strategist fired back.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Trump's conviction marked "a shameful day in American history," which certainly puts things like the Dred Scott decision and Wounded Knee Massacre in perspective.

Like many — including the groveling Rubio, Scott and Stefanik — Johnson was once a Trump critic. Now Johnson unflinchingly embraces him, whiplash being a common condition in today's Republican Party.

Trump isn't just the GOP nominee-in-waiting, Johnson said at a weekend fundraiser in Peoria, Ill., "but a symbol of one who is willing to fight back against... corruption, the deep state and all the rest."

Republican have long run against government and its perceived overreach, but the strategy has reached new heights in the last few years. The Party of Lincoln, who appealed to the better angels of our nature, has become the Party of Trump, who panders to the baser instincts of his aggrieved followers.

If it's uplift you want, catch an elevator.

The country needs a strong, vibrant and serious-minded GOP, to compete against and hold the Democratic Party in check. A see-no-evil personality cult dedicated to the presidential restoration of a grifting, vengeance-minded felon just doesn't cut it.

The party, and the country, need to purge Trump once and for all and the only way that will happen is a resounding and unequivocal defeat at the polls,

Again.

Trump has been a loser in three straight elections starting in 2018. Even the most zombified Republican politician will eventually come to realize the party needs to move on.

More broadly, the election in November amounts to a test of character. Not Trump's. It's about the character of our country.

In 2016, many voters chose to overlook Trump's serial bankruptcies, his mendacity, extravagant malice and utter lack of qualifications, assuming he would "pivot" — to use a term fashionable at the time — and become more sober and responsible once he became president.

Eight years later — after two impeachments, four criminal indictments, two libel verdicts, a civil judgment for business fraud, a judge's finding Trump committed sexual assault and, now, his felony convictions — there is no doubt about the fundamental rot that festers at Trump's core.

Will voters put him back in the White House? And what does that say about America's values, not to mention the country's judgment, if they do?

Every four years, a candidate for one party or the other — whichever happens to be out of power in the White House at the moment — describes the upcoming election as the most important one of our lifetime.

It's a cliche so old it has wrinkles atop its wrinkles.

But this time it happens to be true.

Mark Z. Barabak is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, focusing on politics in California and the West.

YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED

FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.