Dispatches From Vero Beach: Tales Of The 2024 Election As Seen From The Shore

Trump Braces For The Hand Of Justice…A Specter Haunting The Traveling Salesman…A Vote Or A Funeral?


Evelyn Mae Stewart

Recently captured ex-President Donald J. Trump, clad in a prison jumpsuit, poses for the cameras in front of Mar-a-Lago.

“The people…are constantly liable to be misled.”

Roger Sherman, Delegate to the Continental Congress from Connecticut

VERO BEACH, FLORIDA—Mid-morning on the space coast. Dawn broke long ago, giving way to an unrelenting heat that made quick work of scorching my back and drying the sargassum that festoons the shoreline. It’s a calm day. A breeze picks up occasionally to blow a dusting of loose sand onto my flip-flops, which lay at the foot of the hotel-issued lounge chair I straddle for ease of typing. The water is placid as far as the horizon. It takes a keen eye, hunched forward and studying the surface, to see any undulations or pockmarks. On my right, in the wake of the rising sun, a patch of water gleams with the reflections of the few stray clouds that drift across a pale blue sky. 

My chair is set back a ways from the water’s edge, and a dune in front of me slopes up gradually to obscure that place where the sea leaves its mark on the sand. The waves still roll in, though—calm as it may be—and break honestly on the shore with a thundering might that carries up over the dunes through layers of humid air to remind you, in case you’ve gotten sentimental, that the ocean still takes names. 

Umbrellas and canopies scatter the length of the coast. Ten-foot surf rods stud the beach like blades of grass, some swaying in the breeze, some doubled over by fish as if hung with dew, and others plucked from the ground by burly, shirtless men who make vain attempts at unsnagging their hooks. 

By all accounts it’s a day like any other in Vero Beach. Within the hour, a Falcon 9 rocket will launch from the Cape eighty miles north and hold, for a fleeting moment, the awestruck gazes of a curious few as it streaks across the sky on its way to delivering 60 Starlink satellites to orbit. 

For now, though, a faint orange glow emanates from eighty miles south, where our Tangerine Fuhrer is ensconced in his Floridian Eagle’s Nest, pacing, overwrought, like Nixon during the limbo of Watergate, around the grounds of his golf course in between trips to McDonald’s. The hounds are closing in on him, hot on the scent with a warrant in hand, but Donald Trump’s legal woes are the least of his worries. 

If you were to read Trump’s genome like a stack of tarot cards, you’d find it riddled with all the hallmarks of a histrionic liar destined for a long and illustrious career as either an A-list actor or a grade-A conman. As fate would have it, Trump got to be both and more, working his way up from the corner office in the family business, to a red leather chair on The Apprentice, all the way to the Resolute desk in the White House. From there, four-years of relentless dogging by the media further honed his abilities, and if you exclude the inexplicable blunder of January 6th, it’s hard to deny that Trump has only become more artful at his craft since first taking office. If you’re in denial, look no further than the fact that despite all the harm he did as President, Trump has continuously managed to rejuvenate his base, and if the election were held today, half the country would turn out again to vote for him. Though the camera adds ten pounds for most, for Trump, it has the potential to add ten votes, a reality the left-wing media and the Democratic establishment have long ignored—to their great peril. In general, it’s a loathly accepted fact that when he isn’t being cornered on substantive policy questions, Trump has a remarkable capacity to work a crowd with such forceful confidence, blistering humor, and undeniable charisma in equal measure that it’s enough to make any ill-informed voter swoon. 

When you’re dealing with a beast like this, it should go without saying that the strategy for defeating it should not be to pan the cameras in horror and astonishment every time it acts in a predictably heinous way. In doing so, you’re only ensuring that the beast, Trump in this case, reaches a broader audience. Just as you wouldn’t try to end a door-to-door salesman’s reign of terror by setting him loose in a cul-de-sac with the hopes that his pitch won’t fool all the decent people this time around, the media and the Democrats shouldn’t try to end Trump’s stranglehold on Republican voters by putting him in front of them. 

Now, though, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is on the brink of handing Trump the biggest role he’ll see before the 2024 election—and he’s perfectly content to be cast as the villain. The media coverage, in addition to the live feed his campaign is fighting to have installed in the courtroom, will give him a stage from which to play up his narrative that radical left-wing elements have seized the judiciary and are now wielding it against political adversaries, including the former President and current Republican frontrunner. Worse, for the first time, he will have a tangible attestation to years of scatological tirades—a real monster under the bed—somebody who is actually out to get him. 

Trump is not the slightest bit concerned that a criminal inquiry will strain the bonds of affection his followers have for him, and with good reason. Those who contest that this must be the last straw for supporters of the former President overestimate the public’s ability to recognize a grifter when they see one, in addition to making the critical error of assuming that the electorate remains static from election to election, when in reality, the miracle of birth continually replenishes it with new fools. Ironically enough, for those who find themselves in the Trump Family, it has always boiled down to a question of loyalty. No matter what he does, they will always stand by their man.

When viewed through this lens, it seems almost inescapable that Trump will come out on top no matter how the saga unfolds. In the most likely scenario, when authorities finally breach the gates of Mar-a-Lago, Trump will surrender willingly, armed with the knowledge that his stay uptown can only do him good. 

Perhaps the most consequential thing that we can expect from a booking is a mugshot, which may one day come to be regarded as a decisive factor in the 2024 election. If they have any sense about the gravity of the situation, New York officials will do all they can to keep this mugshot from the public eye, and if Trump’s legal arm has any sense about the soaring implications of its release, they will do all they can to strong-arm the DA into turning it over. This effort will no doubt be conducted under the great leveraging pretense of “the public’s right to know” or some other righteous cause, and when they’ve gotten their way, the Trump campaign will promptly plaster his ugly mug (hopefully he posed real nice and made sure to look ruffled up) anywhere they can fit it. 

First, staffers will change the banner on the campaign website and all the social media profile pictures. Not long after, a blast email will be sent out to members of the “President’s Trust” with a subject line that reads something like “GLORIOUS LEADER BOUND IN CHAINS: DONATE $200 NOW TO SAVE HIM.” By the following morning, #FreeTrump shirts will sell out on every chic conservative clothing site, and a few celebrities will even be spotted wearing them. Soon, the whole electorate won’t be able to help but wonder why jailing the opposition is necessary when he’s supposedly such an obvious shuck that any half-informed voter couldn’t possibly cast a ballot for him anyway. 

When the case finally goes to court, all Trump will have to do to beat the charges is plead ignorance, and when he faces his supporters, he can admit to petty corporate crime or a murder in the middle of Fifth Avenue and be none the worse for it. In the event he is convicted, Trump could finish what Eugene Debs started and become the first President elected from behind bars. 

The only bad that could result from being booked is the possibility that the ensuing medical examination turns up something disqualifying about his health. Like all the best dictators and cult leaders, Trump has never allowed his followers to see him in a position of weakness. A bombshell disclosure that he suffers from bouts of clinical depression like Eagleton in 1972 could be an Achilles heel that shatters his tough-guy facade. 

In a nutshell, former Senator Al Franken put it best when he said on the nightly news several months ago that “The only thing worse than not prosecuting Trump, is prosecuting Trump.” It’s clear that the longer Trump is allowed to milk this investigation, the closer he will get to the Presidency, and anyone with the remotest feelings of intimacy left for this country should pray that Democrats bite their tongue and let him run unimpeded so that in the aftermath of election day, there can be no doubts he was beaten in an honest brawl rather than a rigged Wrestlemania match. 

Looking past the election, the prescience of Franken’s words ring true in another startling way. No matter how the proceedings turn out, they will inevitably result in half the country losing confidence in the judicial system: either its ability to hold politicians accountable or its ability to hold politicians at gunpoint. The future remains, as ever, increasingly bleak for this young empire…

The reality that Trump will be forced to contend with, and the worry that has him stomping all over the green in a tizzy, is not his legal trouble as much as the 2024 election on balance. Trump is consumed by the debilitating fear that despite a serious boost from the release of a mugshot, or whatever other gimmicks he manages to pull out from under his toupee over the next eighteen months, none if it will be enough to propel him across the finish line. At his core, Trump is a sentimental person, and he’s far from content to let his time in the White House be made into a memory that fades over time or a file that collects dust on a shelf in the National Archives. His recent attempts at holding onto the past by removing and retaining classified documents that, to him, read like sweet love notes of yore reflect the broader reality that his whole 2024 campaign can be summed up as nothing more than a desperate ploy to remain relevant. 

At the moment, that ploy faces no real roadblocks. Trump likes his chances against Joe Biden, who has seen his popularity tumble since taking office to levels equally as dismal as his in the darkest days of the administration. On a level polling field, Trump will feel emboldened to hinge his whole campaign on the assumption that the public’s recency bias has blinded them to the past and shielded him from attacks on his own record. Operating by this rather safe playbook, Trump will look to whip up a wistful longing for the good ole days of the country under his rule, where the Dow soared, gas prices plummeted, and there was always the safe fallback of blaming any failures or contradictions on the insidious impact of illegal immigration. 

On the other hand, Biden is still willing to bet on being the lesser of two evils, regardless of the obstacles his administration has not-so-skillfully navigated. Another crucial part of his platform will be the economy. Just as Trump rode the wave of the post-2008 recovery Obama orchestrated, Joe Biden hopes to take credit for the inevitable upticks in employment, GDP, and other economic indicators following a major disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic. But this strategy will have its drawbacks, of course, as the country is still in the grips of skyrocketing inflation, supply chain crises, and the first signs of a failing monetary system. Try as he might, it will be hard for Biden to summon an answer to these questions when they’re put to him, for more reasons than one. 

As far as the primaries go, the Democratic ring is devoid of hats from any serious contenders to Joe Biden—and it will remain so as long as he enjoys the tacit support of the establishment. An establishment that looks increasingly unflinching when you consider Biden has even managed to garner a nod from the once intractable Bernie Sanders. 

Sanders, who in his youthful exuberance was frequently out of step with the party, doesn’t get enough hate for toeing the line in supporting the Biden administration. He is very essentially a Wordsworth-like figure, a sell-out in no uncertain terms, an old romantic poet who began a movement only to abandon it with age. Instead of passing the torch to one of his proteges, a young radical like a William Byron or a Percy Bysshe Shelley (the proverbial AOCs or Brandon Johnsons), Sanders decided to take refuge in the establishment, believing it would be the best vehicle for advancing his policy goals. Since the 2020 election, Sanders has made it his life’s mission to get one measure with even the faintest whiff of being based in leftist literature attached to a bill bearing Biden’s signature, and he’s thus far failed. As a consequence of all this, it’s unlikely we’ll see any Abbie Hoffman/yippie/hippie challenger to Biden’s throne, as such a candidate would be working to upend the weight of the entire corporate left (who still see themselves as the best and biggest thing standing in the way of a second Trump presidency) without the blessing of their spiritual leader. 

Bernie’s absence bodes well for Trump, though, who won’t have to defend himself against allegations that he’s swindled the American working class. Counterintuitive as it may sound, the intersections between Bernie and Trump are real and numerous. The two are essentially different manifestations of the same phenomena: an increasingly disturbed working man who’s seen his trucking job taken by a robot, his healthcare costs shoot through the roof, and his debt chain him to his present circumstances. Sanders made a career out of appealing to these Americans, but as long as he bows to Biden, he won’t get the opportunity to admonish them that they’ve squandered their revolutionary potential on a false prophet. Even without Bernie in the race, it’s unclear whether or not Trump can tap into the same disaffected blue-collar energy that propelled him to victory in 2016. In the last election, Biden enjoyed almost unilateral support among trade unions, but after a series of clashes culminating in the signing of a bill last November to block a railroad strike, that support has been called into serious doubt. Theoretically, Trump should have the opportunity to capitalize on these failures, but he may no longer be in a position to put his product back on the market, as it were, after betraying his previous customers so brutally the first time around. 

With Sanders and his disciples neutralized, Biden is positioned for a casual stroll to the podium on convention night, should he want it. Unless something comes catastrophically undone in the intervening months, something more than rampant inflation and the first signs of a collapsing banking system, then Biden will face no internal opposition, and no one is counting on a candidate to spontaneously emerge that sends him packing to a long-term care facility either. 

As it stands, healing guru and bestselling author Marianne Williamson is the only declared contender for the Democratic nomination, though she may already be facing an early exit in the form of workplace abuse allegations. If she does manage to weather that storm, then there is a slim chance of her nipping at Biden’s heels when the first ballots are cast in New Hampshire next March. Early polling suggests that her messages of a “humanized approach to politics” and “capitalism with a conscience” have a real foothold in an increasingly disillusioned electorate, despite the fact that, on top of the already surfacing allegations, some voters have expressed uneasiness about her, a sense that she is “too good be true.” Regardless of what the voters think, the real downfall of her candidacy will come when she’s laughed out of the room by party leaders who won’t for a second entertain the idea of brokering a convention in favor of a TV quack and spiritual advisor to Oprah. If she somehow miraculously claims the nomination, McGovern’s ill-fated 1972 campaign has already shown us how that movie ends: with her getting trampled like an ant under a herd of elephants.

On the Republican side, the field is beginning to take shape, with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy all declaring their intent to contest Donald Trump for the nomination. Unbothered, the only candidate keeping Trump up at night is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has yet to even enter the race. 

To Trump, DeSantis poses a greater and more difficult-to-navigate threat than any of the declared candidates put together. DeSantis was once one of Donald Trump’s star boys, riding an endorsement and a copy-and-paste America First platform to a landslide victory in his race for a second term as Florida’s Governor. As such, for DeSantis to even consider running constitutes a monstrous betrayal in Trump’s eyes. Meanwhile, from the Oval Office, Trump hailed Ron as a shining example of conservative leadership at the height of the pandemic, comments that are hard to walkback. 

Since DeSantis first teased a Presidential bid several months ago, the two have been locked in a bizarre standoff, with neither side willing to draw their weapon first. The crux of the matter is that for either candidate to stand apart from the other, they will have to disavow a part of themselves. In a bizarre turn of events, Trump appears to have done just that during a recent interview on Newsmax, where he openly criticizes DeSantis for his poor voting record on issues that he would normally be opposed to, including the expansion of government entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. 

DeSantis has reserved judgment thus far as to a formal announcement, and if he can reconcile with Trump, he may even be willing to bow out this time around, eying a run in 2028 instead. But if DeSantis really believes that the political landscape will be just as fertile for him in eight years as it looks to be now, then his naivete is on full display, and perhaps some more time in the Governor’s mansion would do him good anyway.

The uncertainty surrounding DeSantis’ run has reduced Trump to a nervous wreck. At rallies, he talks nervously about him, oftentimes making the outright distinction between candidate Ron and non-candidate Ron, as if his body is inhabited by two entirely separate beings. It’s highly unusual to see Trump in a state of such disorganized panic that he’s not even attempting to put a spin on his circumstances. For a bit, I thought it meant the end was near, but I felt that too in the wake of the 2022 midterm elections, and now less than six months later, we’re back to talking about the nomination as if it’s Trump’s to lose. It seems that every time the reins of power slip through Trump’s hands, he finds a way to regain a grip on them. From his command post at Mar-a-Lago just south of here, Trump still has a powerful hold on a sizable portion of the electorate and should be taken very seriously. 

As cool gusts of wind from the ocean begin to overpower the sinking sun, I migrate back to the patio by the pool at my hotel, where the TV in the bar is playing another broadcast about the impending indictment coming out of the Manhattan DA’s office. It appears to be a foregone conclusion that soon, Donald Trump will have the dubious distinction of being the first American President ever charged with a crime, an occasion not even Nixon could rise to… 

I pause for a moment to watch, and all the implications come swirling back until suddenly I’m struck by the realization that it’s worse than I initially imagined. 

What even Trump has possibly failed to consider is that to ‘win,’ per se, he doesn’t have to take the popular vote, or win the electoral college, or carry the most states… he just has to get on the ballot. As long as his name appears with a blank check box next to it on election day, Trump can pull whatever stunt he was planning on just the same, plunging this country into chaos in the process. The details get hazy after this, but if I’m sure of one thing in this world, it’s that you don’t leave Trump alone in a room full of voters.

Even if he’s denied the Republican nomination, the sunk-cost fallacist in Trump would push on, registering under a Teddy Roosevelt-esque banner like the “Big Hands Party,” in a move that might not drastically alter his final tallies considering most of his supporters are more loyal to him than any political organization anyway. 

With these thoughts my heart begins to beat out of my chest, and as a gust of wind knocks over an empty glass on the table in front me, my eyes dart between small whitecaps offshore that break on the surface like flashbangs. A storm is cropping up on the horizon, and it will soon be upon our shore. 

This is an ongoing story. The BHS Gazette strives to provide accurate coverage and will share the latest information as it becomes available.

*Disclaimer that the publication does not endorse the viewpoints of the author.