Opinion | Donald Trump Betrayed the Country. And It Worked.

Fact-checkers have made their careers tracking the lies of Donald Trump. During his presidential tenure alone, he recorded 30,573 — many of which he repeated in his return to cable television at a CNN town hall on Wednesday, including his lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. But meanwhile, another meter has been running. Let’s call it the betrayal count — and although there’s no official total, there’s little doubt it is, as Trump himself would say, yuge.

He cheated on his first wife, Ivana, with model Marla Maples, then married Maples and — according to a New York federal jury — sexually abused columnist E. Jean Carroll in a Bergdorf-Goodman dressing room, which recently cost him $5 million. A decade later, when married to his third wife, Melania, he allegedly had a one-night stand with porn star Stormy Daniels and used campaign funds to pay her hush money — a move that led to the first indictment of a former president on criminal charges in history. Throughout his business career, he’s left everyone from construction workers to his own lawyers out in the cold, awaiting payment — not to mention the students of Trump University. Not even his own cabinet was safe from Trump’s betrayal — just ask Jim Mattis. Or Jeff Sessions. Or Elaine Chao. Better yet, ask Mike Pence, who Trump made the target of a violent mob when he wiped his feet on his oath of office on Jan. 6.

It’s a track record that would have sunk any other politician, at least before Trump’s rise. But nobody — not even master political trickster and Trump mentor Roy Cohn, who said “Donald pisses ice water” as he lay dying of AIDS, abandoned by his former protégé — could have foreseen how Trump would turn his history of lies and betrayals into perhaps his biggest political asset. In 2015, the man who had mislabeled the floors in his building to inflate its size, pretended he was a self-made mogul, misled customers and business partners, cheated on his wives and shorted people who worked for him, now boasted that he knew how to take on the lying, conniving, corrupt and hypocritical elites, insider politicians, free-traders and shadowy outsiders — code for minorities — who were running and wrecking the country.

In so doing, he forged a seemingly unbreakable connection with a broad swath of Americans who felt that they had been lied to, betrayed, displaced and given a raw deal by those very same forces, and welcomed their new champion with open arms.

Trump is a virtuoso at playing the modern politics of grievance — of getting even and sowing discord and division, where loyalty is naïve and to be a leader you have to show your willingness to trample over anyone who gets in your way. There’s a perverse symmetry to it all. You’ve been betrayed, says the Betrayer-in-Chief. Who better to offer you retribution than an expert?

Nearly eight years since the escalator ride that started our long descent into Trump’s politics of grievance, his philosophy has attracted acolytes like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who joined 146 other Republicans in voting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results — a betrayal of our very democracy. In a move the New Republic called “borderline sedition,””,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://newrepublic.com/post/170674/marjorie-taylor-greene-national-divorce-tweet”,”_id”:”00000188-1a2d-d123-a188-7a2f088e0004″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000188-1a2d-d123-a188-7a2f088e0005″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}’>New Republic called “borderline sedition,” Greene — who has called Nancy Pelosi a “traitor” and implied she should be executed — has advocated a “national divorce” on Twitter, writing that “we need to separate by red states and blue states.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s own betrayal count keeps climbing as he recapitulates his lies about the 2020 election again and again and again. Certainly it ticked up when Trump opened the first rally of his 2024 re-election campaign in Waco, Texas by playing a recording of the national anthem sung by the “January 6 Prison Choir,” which features audio of Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. But it hasn’t made a dent in the support of his die-hard base. A recent CBS poll has Trump leading his presumptive primary rival, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 58 to 22 percent. It’s a stark testament to the effectiveness of Trump’s me-first gospel.

Betrayal isn’t just his M.O. anymore; it’s a political product, and he’s a master salesman. “I am your warrior,” he declared at the CPAC conference in March. “I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”

Some might see this as a threat. Or, at the very least, a strong suggestion that if he’s not on the ticket, he might take his ball — his seemingly unbreakable base of supporters — and go home. Bad as it would be for the GOP to lose as much as a third of its voters, it would be even worse if he followed through on his threat. If pushed hard enough, he seemed to imply, he might mount an independent campaign — a death knell for the Republican Party as we currently know it.

It would be a betrayal of an amazing, super-colossal, astonishing nature — a stab in the gut to the party Trump has already remade in his own image. It would be business, but it would also be personal. It would be a Trump-style betrayal.