The E. Jean Carroll Verdict Should Be a Death Blow to Trump’s Campaign But Won’t Be

4 minute read

This article is part of The D.C. Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox.

Over the years, more than two dozen women have accused ex-President Donald Trump of sexual misconduct—and the really bad ones, at that: rape, assault, groping, harassment, unwanted kissing, dressing-room invasion, and handsy tendencies for starters. But on Tuesday, for the first time, a jury sided with one of those alleged victims, setting the stage for a new battlefield as the former Commander in Chief seeks to return to power without protections from non-disclosure agreements.

A federal civil jury found that Trump sexually abused E. Jean Carroll in the mid 1990s and later defamed her, an unprecedented rebuke of a White House frontrunner that, in a more logical world, would reset the 2024 campaign, disqualify the former reality-show star, and give President Joe Biden—the author of the Violence Against Women Act—a leg up in his reelection bid.

And yet… Dammit; we’re doing this again, aren’t we?

None of this may matter. Americans have never looked to Trump as an exemplar when it comes to treatment of women. We are all well aware of the time he bragged to a distant Bush Dynasty cousin of having grabbed women by the genitals because, in his words, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Trump’s second wife accused him of rape before recanting and declaring him her bestie. Teen beauty-pageant contestants and former aides alike have leveled accusations that the Manhattan billionaire crossed the lines.

All this has, time and again, has been largely met with a predictable, collective shrug of indifference. Within Trump’s Republican base. Within his Democratic opposition. Within the middle-of-the-pack independents. No, really.

Democrats need to understand that there is little political advantage in the moral high ground here. Trump was found culpable. And yet Trump is going to filibuster his way through this like he has so many other bad news cycles. He is set to participate in a primetime town hall Wednesday night with his best frenemy CNN up in New Hampshire. While there’s no doubt that anchor Kaitlan Collins—one of the deserving journalistic rockets of the Trump era—will push Trump on the jury’s finding, it’s equally as expectant that he will dismiss the judgment as rubbish.

If anything, the Carroll verdict may end up having a ricochet upside for Trump, whose supporters will claim victimhood, whose HQ can claim persecution, whose accusers can once again be used as fodder in the right-wing social ecosystem.

Much of how this is likely to play out is connected to what the public has grown to expect from our former President. No one has ever mistaken Trump as a gentleman. He famously judged women on their appearances. He has never apologized for objectifying women for their looks or sexual appeal. His defense against rape allegations from Carroll—and this is no joke, folks—was that she wasn’t hot enough for him to want to force himself upon her. In Trump’s world, anyone who isn’t a 10 is not worth his interest, even in a department store dressing room.

In that disparagement, Carroll found a defamation victory—but not a federal finding that Trump actually raped her, just that he sexually assaulted her and then dissed her afterward. (In New York, these things matter.)

Read more: E. Jean Carroll’s Victory Shows the #MeToo Movement Is Far From Dead

When Trump was running for the nomination back in 2016, Trump and I chatted about his approach to litigation. What was worth the fight and what was worth the detente? Wins were to be had, losses were to be avoided. Ethics or higher ground were totally extraneous. It seemed, transparently, as if he didn’t fully understand that courts were more than a soundstage for publicity.

That’s why the latest verdict feels like a modicum of justice for Trump’s well-documented treatment of women, but won’t have the sticking power in the public consciousness that the moment deserves. Dianne Feinstein is coming back to D.C., Tucker Carlson seems to be heading to Twitter, and Rep. George Santos was just indicted. The federal government may be weeks away from defaulting.

Taken as a whole, we are left with this most basic of thesis statements: Nothing Matters; LOL. To be clear: No one should be laughing.

Make sense of what matters in Washington. Sign up for the D.C. Brief newsletter.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Philip Elliott at