Why this one matters

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In the end, Donald Trump’s downfall will depend partly on the court of public opinion. There are those who decided long ago that he belongs in a cell. There are those who are still fiercely loyal to him. And then there are those people in the middle who hear both sides and don’t know what to believe, or don’t care all that much. But the events of the past twenty-four hours are different, for a specific reason.

Back when Paul Manafort was being busted, it was a very ugly – and very loud – story. Donald Trump’s campaign manager was placed under house arrest, then thrown in jail, then convicted on eight felonies and earmarked for a lengthy prison sentence. But in the eyes of the people in the middle, the ugly storyline wasn’t necessarily ugly for Trump himself.

Okay, so they thought, Trump hired a rogue campaign manager who turned out to have been a career criminal. Maybe Trump was just a poor judge of character. It was an excuse for the people in the middle to kick the can down the road, to not care about it, and to tell themselves – as they always try to do – that all politicians and parties are vaguely corrupt in general.

But yesterday was something very different. Everyone knows that Michael Cohen was Donald Trump’s right hand man, period, and not just some hired gun for the campaign. Everyone knows that Trump instructed Cohen to commit multiple felonies. And now everyone just saw Cohen sentenced to prison for three years for committing the crimes that Trump told him to commit.

This time around everyone involved can see that Donald Trump is a felon, and that if he weren’t hiding behind the protections of the presidency, he’d be going to prison along with his sidekick. Trump’s remaining supporters may not care. But it makes it a lot harder for them to convince the people in the middle that there are two sides to the question of whether Trump is a criminal.

What we’re going to see now is the people in the middle, the people who usually don’t care about these things, decide that Donald Trump should go. If nothing else, this is the rare easy call for people who are lazy about politics. They get to look judicious simply by saying that Trump is a criminal who shouldn’t be president anymore. This is going to shift public sentiment. It’s also just the start, because far more felony counts are coming against Trump. And once Trump has no one left but his base, he’s done.

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