Trump supporters gather outside courthouse and ask: Who among us hasn’t paid for sex?

You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep, but what about the people who come out to protest at their criminal trial?

Had Donald Trump glanced out of a window on his way to the Manhattan Supreme Court for the opening day of his historic trial, he would have seen that his supporters had dwindled since his arraignment a little over a year ago.

Back then, there was palpable shock and outrage among the gathered protesters that a former president could be arrested and charged with a crime. Although that was no great mass either, that day in March last year seemed to attract not just hardcore followers, but a smattering of relatively middle-of-the-road folks concerned about the implications of such an event.

Today, however, the crowd had thinned to a handful of true believers and true characters — those who don’t leave their house without a giant flag, a bullhorn, and an offensive T-shirt they made themselves.

It’s not only that the crowds are getting smaller, it’s that they are getting significantly weirder.

Of the people willing to step up to a microphone outside the courthouse and defend Mr Trump for allegedly paying off a porn star to hide his alleged affair from prospective voters, two offered something of a wild defence: that they opposed the charges because they too had paid for sex on more than one occasion, and assumed most men had done the same.

It didn’t matter to them that Mr Trump is not being accused of paying for sex, but rather accused of having embarked on several extra-marital affairs and falsifying business records over payments made to hide those affairs from the voting public in 2016.

A protester holds a banner against Donald Trump outside the courthouse (REUTERS)
A man holds a protest sign outside of court as former president Donald Trump’s trial begins (Natalie Chinn / The The Independent )

One of the supporters offered, unprompted, that he had spent a lot of time in the Far East in the pursuit of such earthly pleasures.

“What do you think I do in Thailand, just sit in a chair?” he asked, incredulously. “That’s what we do as men, you know?”

It wasn’t just men who were inexplicably linking Mr Trump’s trial to prostitution, either.

It was hard to move outside the court without bumping into people proudly declaring they had stormed the US Capitol on January 6 2021, and at least one person baselessly blamed child-trafficking Democrats for a politically motivated prosecution — a pet theory of the QAnon movement.

Another supporter, who identified himself as “Gary from Staten Island,” delivered an animated and updated interpretation of Dwight D Eisenhower’s speech on the military-industrial complex to a confused reporter from German television news, expertly connecting the dots between the war in Ukraine, the British establishment and Stormy Daniels.

Former US President Donald Trump appears at a court hearing in New York (REUTERS)

Trump rallies, and his protests, have never been a cross-section of America, but these court spectacles have become a media event, rather than a participation sport. They are attended by people who crave a camera in their faces and know this is the one place it can be assured — even if it is just German television.

For a man who views his crowds as a sign of his strength, the former president might have been worried by his showing today.

No senior Republican politicians turned up to show their support. Laura Loomer, a far-right and anti-Muslim agitator was perhaps the most famous face to show up outside. (Last year, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the as-of-then unindicted George Santos came out in person to defend Mr Trump).

Mr Trump had warned of “death and destruction” if he was ever charged for the alleged payment to Ms Daniels, which he is accused of handling with campaign funds and falsifying the records to cover his tracks. As his trial begins, however, the case mustered barely a whimper.

Trump at the first day of his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court (AFP/Getty)

Interest had dwindled on the other side of the Manhattan park, too, where a year ago dozens of anti-Trump protesters gathered to cheer his arrest. Only a handful came this time. Joel Anderson, a cop from Washington state, held a sign that read “Trump’s lies got cops killed”.

“It’s disheartening and sad for me as a police officer to know I’m the outlier who’s standing up and saying, we’re police officers, we’re supposed to have people like this held accountable,” he said.

“To make excuses for him just because he’s their preferred candidate, it’s not what being a police officer is about.”

Granted, this is New York, a liberal city that holds no love for Mr Trump. And there could be an element of trial fatigue, with Mr Trump currently involved in several criminal proceedings — most of them related to his efforts to steal or overturn the 2020 election. And not everyone can take every Monday off to shout at the judicial system.

But this is also an election year — a close election year — and such elections are won by the ability of candidates to grab voters in the middle. It’s unclear how sex tourists and Capitol rioters becoming the unofficial face of Donald Trump’s legal defence will help him win those votes.

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