Trump's trial is upon us. What will it take to convince Republicans he's unfit for office?

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No other president in history has been indicted, but lucky for us the Republican running for president again has done it four times.

Donald Trump, taking it one step further, has managed to do it in different states and has 91 felony charges against him. Trump faces his first trial in one of those cases Monday, the now infamous hush money case.

While this isn’t the most compelling of the four cases – and indeed, none of them will likely be edge-of-your-seat dramas – it’s probably the only one that will happen before the election.

As this gets going, the question from Republicans shouldn't be “Is this all you got?” The question for us should be “What will it take to convince conservatives Trump isn’t fit for office?”

Trump's Stormy Daniels trial should make conservatives think differently about our candidate

As it stands, Trump is accused of falsifying business records regarding a payoff he made to Stormy Daniels. Daniels is a former porn star who has claimed the two had a sexual fling. The prosecution claims Trump bought Daniels’ silence in order to avoid a scandal during the 2016 campaign.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after arriving on April 10, 2024, in Atlanta for a campaign fundraising event.
Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after arriving on April 10, 2024, in Atlanta for a campaign fundraising event.

Prosecutors say Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, paid $130,000 to Daniels in October 2016 and over time was reimbursed by Trump via installments labeled corporate legal expenses.

In New York, falsifying business records is just a misdemeanor, but apparently it can become a felony if the records were tainted to cover up a separate, underlying crime.

On the one hand: Cohen has flipped on Trump and will undoubtedly testify against him. The prosecution will also likely try to show a pattern of hush money payments, which won’t look good for Trump.

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On the other hand: Forcing the business records falsification to felonies by linking them to another crime is some tricky legal maneuvering. A conviction could theoretically carry more than a decade in prison, but imprisonment is unlikely for Trump.

I’ll admit as a former Trump fan who has turned, it’s tempting to think that this case isn’t airtight or, on the scale of crimes, that it doesn't seem like that big of a deal. Giving hush money to a porn star? Falsifying the payoffs? I spent a decade around Washington, D.C. A lot goes on that is worse.

Some conservatives have started thinking this way about Trump. That has to change.

Why are Republicans lowering moral standards for the White House?

In fact, many might insist that this trial – like the 91 felony charges – and the other three criminal cases against Trump are all rigged. That they’re all some kind of nationwide conspiracy theory among judges to keep Trump from looking squeaky clean as he runs for office. (This theory isn’t even plausible: How could every single judge be in on it? And to what end?)

That’s how bad things have gotten in the GOP. We’ve bargained so hard and lowered the standards so much that accusations of hush money to a porn star and falsified payoffs seem tame in comparison with – with what exactly? Tax fraud? State and federal election interference? Stealing classified documents and showing them to people without such clearance?

This raises two vital questions Republicans must answer. Where exactly is the bar? What exactly would convince us he’s unfit to represent us and unfit for office?

Let's review who Trump is. Is this what we want for our party?

Forgive the candor, but this is what I’m paid for: Trump is a narcissistic but whiny, arrogant but thin-skinned, elderly buffoon who has conned more than 70 million folks into thinking he’s a better alternative than a Democrat. A massive feat in political charisma and Republican strategy to be sure.

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He’s a fraud, but he’s not a psychopath; he’s accused of committing just the kinds of crimes one would expect of a high-level, manipulative con man. These are the crimes men like this do because they don’t respect authority, laws or women. These aren't the worst things someone can do, but they're not great things for a Republican president to be legally accused of. And this is just the beginning.

This is why looking at Trump’s hush money trial and saying, “This it?” is the wrong thing to say. There shouldn’t be any trials, or criminal cases, or indictments. At all. In fact, that doesn’t seem like much to ask. The real truth is that any of this is unbecoming of a person running for office and it doesn’t best represent conservatives.

Conservatives, we could have done so much better

Republicans had years to scout the land for a better man or woman to represent them. They came up with a few ideas and, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy aside, they weren’t bad.

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We could have had Ron DeSantis and, sure, we’d just be talking about the governor's goofy shoes and how he makes people feel a little weird because he’s awkward. Meanwhile, Florida’s education is fantastic and its economy is booming, and he handles disasters and Disney as well as any conservative. But we can’t have that now because so many of you asked for Trump and his 91 felony charges.

We could have had Nikki Haley. And, yes, we’d be talking about why she goes by Nikki instead of Nimrata, or how it’s annoying that she was on Boeing’s board. Meanwhile, she has experience as a conservative governor and as a U.S ambassador to the United Nations, and she comes across even-keeled, sharp and dedicated to conservative principles. Plus, she’d destroy President Joe Biden in a debate – Trump, too.

But no, Republicans can’t have that now – they can’t have nice things – because they wanted Trump even if he came with four criminal cases. They wanted to debate whether or not hush money to a porn star and falsified business payments was the hill to die on, never stopping to ask themselves why they’d lowered the bar that much in the first place.

Nicole Russell is a national opinion columnist at USA TODAY.
Nicole Russell is a national opinion columnist at USA TODAY.

Nicole Russell is an opinion columnist for USA TODAY. She lives in Texas with her four kids.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump's hush money trial starts, but will Republicans even care?