COLUMN: Trump is former president who keeps on giving

Gene Lyons

Be it recorded that on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, would-be president-for-life Donald Trump skipped the solemn memorial services held to honor 2,997 victims of al-Qaida terror attacks in favor of shilling for a pay-per-view boxing match.

And not a real boxing match, but a sad-sack exhibition in which 58-year-old former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield allowed himself to be pummeled to the canvas by an MMA fighter he'd have knocked silly 30 years ago.

Fake sport, fake ex-president.

Fake billionaire, for that matter. Evidently, Trump needs the money. Maybe if they'd held the 9/11 ceremony at Mar-a-Lago or one of his financially troubled golf courses, the great man might have shown up.

Also on Sept. 11, Trump delivered a televised speech praising himself to devotees of the Unification Church (formerly known as "Moonies"), the Korean sect begun by self-proclaimed messiah the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Another payday, no doubt.

Everybody understands that Trump's narcissism won't allow him to appear in public as a former president, as did Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama and their wives, who joined President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden in prayers for the fallen.

Come what may, Trump will never appear in public with Biden. To do so would grant legitimacy to the 2020 election results that make him a Big Loser and undermine the fantasy he calls the "Big Steal." On Sept. 10, Trump appeared on the conspiracist website The Gateway Pundit. "I do believe they are going to decertify the election," he claimed. "They know it was rigged."

Exactly who "they" are was left to the viewers' imagination. Along with whatever method of decertification Trump imagines.

Hint: None exists.

He may be a world-class ignoramus, but Trump's diseased ego has led him to one great truth: There are an irreducible number of gullible dupes in the world. If you tickle their prejudices, they will send you money.

"Our media is corrupt as can be," he explained, "but the people know what's going on and another poll came out. Seventy-some percent thought the election was, to put it very nicely, tampered with."

The actual number in a recent Politico poll was 66 percent of Republican voters who believe the 2020 election was rigged. The only "people" Trump recognizes. But the Republican Party is shrinking, partly due to conservative "Never Trumpers" bailing out, and partly because of demographic change, as older white voters die off and 20-somethings increasingly vote Democratic.

Bottom line: 66 percent of Republicans constitute only 29 percent of American voters, and falling. Less than one-third. Enough to populate Trump's red state rallies and keep him afloat financially for now. But not enough to keep the delusion alive indefinitely.

That's a big part of the reason we saw Trump and his protege, radio talk-show host and would-be California governor Larry Elder, crying foul even before the vote-counting began in that state's recall election.

You'd almost think they expected to lose.

To keep True Believers writing checks, it's necessary to keep the Big Lie in play. But it's also why – and this is important – embattled Gov. Gavin Newsom did everything he could to turn the recall vote into a referendum on the Big Bad Wolf.

"Trumpism is still alive all across this country," Newsom said at an East Los Angeles rally with Black campaign volunteers. "Is it any surprise the entire Trump organization is behind this recall?"

At another campaign event with Vice President Kamala Harris, Newsom linked the recall to "the insurrection on Jan. 6." He added that leading Republican Elder would "walk us off that same COVID cliff as Texas and Florida, Tennessee and Alabama and Georgia."

Add Texas' new abortion ban to the mix, and Democrats have a trio of powerful issues that impact voters personally and stimulate turnout – always a big deal in off-year elections.

And not just in California. Democrats in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey are also running hard, not only against the dread specter of Trumpism – but also Trump-accented Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.

In Virginia, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is running to replace term-limited Democrat Ralph Northam, is making a big deal of Trump's endorsement of Republican Glenn Youngkin. The GOP candidate has run ads disparaging the tactic. Without, however, rejecting the endorsement.

"With COVID, people are terrified, horrified – many people are just plain disgusted that people are not getting vaccinated," McAuliffe told The Washington Post. "And they're terrified about the Texas [abortion] law," he added.

In an outburst of pure Jersey style, Gov. Phil Murphy recently confronted anti-vaccine hecklers. "You've lost your minds!" Murphy said. "You are the ultimate knuckleheads, and because of what you are saying and standing for, people are losing their [lives]."

Both Democrats appear comfortably ahead. And they owe it all to Trump, DeSantis and Abbott.

Gene Lyons is an author and a columnist with the Arkansas Times.

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