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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Narrative of Trump snoozing in court takes hold — much to his annoyance

Trump, flanked by attorneys Todd Blanche and Emil Bove, arrives at Manhattan criminal court for jury selection April 18. (MUST CREDIT: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)  (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
By Ashley Parker Washington Post

“Don Snoreleone.” “Donnie Nappleseed.” “Sleepy Don.”

In addition to the actual testimony from Donald Trump’s Manhattan hush money trial - some of it gripping, some of it sordid - a secondary storyline is emerging: that of a former president who just can’t stay awake.

“The Trump campaign also pushed back on reports that he fell asleep in court yesterday,” comedian Jimmy Kimmel joked on his late-night show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” “They said that was Fake Snooze.”

It remains unclear if Trump has actually fallen asleep during his trial - he and his team have vigorously rejected the claim. But a narrative has taken hold nonetheless that Trump, who often sits in court with his eyes closed, may also deserve the moniker that he has bestowed upon President Biden: “Sleepy.”

Democrats and Republicans alike say the image of a tired Trump is unlikely to have meaningful political ramifications, in part because many voters are not locked into the nuances of the trial and because, for nearly a decade, he has portrayed himself as an energetic strongman. But since the trial started in mid-April, the dozy portrayal has irritated Trump, delighted gleeful Democrats, and provided plenty of fodder for late-night TV hosts and comedians.

CBS “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert dubbed the alleged courtroom siestas a “white power nap.”

On “Saturday Night Live” last weekend, “Weekend Update” host Colin Jost displayed a photo of Trump - hunched slightly forward, eyes fully closed - and deadpanned, “Former president Donald Trump seen here definitely not sleeping. He’s probably just praying.”

In a Telemundo Miami interview Thursday, Trump pushed back on the claims, arguing that “for a big portion of trials, you just close your eyes and listen” and that he, in particular, hears everything “perfectly.”

“No, I don’t fall asleep,” he said. “I close my eyes sometimes. You know, it’s very bright in that court actually. It’s also very cold.”

Trump concluded, flashing a brief grin: “But no, I haven’t fallen asleep, but I probably will.”

The whole controversy started in early days of the trial during jury selection, when several New York Times reporters observed that Trump seemed to be sleeping. The former president, one wrote, “appeared to nod off a few times, his mouth going slack and his head drooping onto his chest.”

Others in the courtroom shared the assessment, taking their views public. MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin, for instance, reported that Trump’s lawyers were using “different devices” to try to keep their client awake, including during sidebars with the judge keeping at least one attorney at the former president’s side to prevent him from dozing off.

Trump spends long stretches of the trial listening with his eyes mostly closed, but he regularly nods his head, shifts his body and reopens his eyes frequently, sometimes turning to talk to his lawyers or pass them notes. Trump - who faces a large computer monitor that shows a real-time video feed of himself, the judge and the prosecution table - also periodically smiles and purses his lips.

On Tuesday, during the testimony of Stormy Daniels - the adult-film actress who allegedly received the hush money payment at the center of the case - Trump was especially alert, shaking his head and angrily muttering profanities, prompting the judge to admonish his attorneys.

During cross-examination Thursday, Trump appeared to close his eyes as his lawyer grilled Daniels about her media interviews, her descriptions in her book of her alleged sexual encounter with the former president and whether she actually had dinner with Trump.

Then Trump opened his eyes as his lawyer asked Daniels whether she viewed herself as “instrumental” in getting Trump thrown in jail. He appeared especially engaged as his lawyer sought to poke holes in a magazine interview of Daniels, looking closely at the monitor at his table.

Democrats have been particularly eager to turn the sleeping suspicions into a yawning controversy, having spent years watching as Trump dismissed the president as “Sleepy Joe” and mocked him as allegedly senile, lethargic and mentally infirm.

The number of mentions of Trump sleeping peaked during the first two days of his trial, when the first reports of alleged sleeping emerged. On the second day, there were more than 100 mentions by over 75 high-profile liberal influencers across social media platforms, TV shows and podcasts, according to a Washington Post analysis of hundreds of accounts.

The Biden campaign has blasted out at least eight posts on X, hammering the theme while also bringing their teasing to Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

In at least two X missives, they quoted a Times reporter’s account of Trump seeming to sleep. One, which included the phrase #SleepyDon, featured a photo of a pasty, elderly looking Trump with his eyes closed on the golf course, as animated sheep frolicked atop his red Make America Great Again hat while lullaby music played. In the other, above the reporter’s claim, the Biden team simply wrote: “A feeble and tired Donald Trump once again falls asleep in court.”

Navin Nayak, president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive advocacy organization, acknowledged that “it’s hard for stories to drive a new narrative for someone who people know really well.”

But Nayak said a potential upside is that in many ways, Trump himself is the real audience for the insults and mockery. Getting under his skin often prompts him to lose control in ways that are politically damaging to himself.

“If the perception of him in the world from the media is that he’s falling asleep, it will actually drive him crazy,” Nayak said. “The more he feels angry and needs to lash out, I think that just reveals who he really is, and that’s helpful. People have forgotten, and the more people can be reminded of how scary a second Trump term will be, that’s a good thing for Democrats.”

TJ Ducklo, a Biden campaign senior communications adviser, agreed: “It’s a powerful example of just how weak Donald Trump is, and there’s nothing Trump hates more than people realizing how weak he’s become.”

This month, Trump weighed in for the first time, taking to his Truth Social site to rebut the charges of napping.

“Where’s SLEEPY JOE?” Trump posted just before 5 a.m. on May 1. “He’s SLEEPING, that’s where!!!”

The missive was classic projection - yet another example of the former president’s “I’m rubber, you’re glue” style of insult-trading. The following day, Trump was even more direct, specifically refuting the charge that he had repeatedly fallen asleep in court.

“Contrary to the FAKE NEWS MEDIA, I don’t fall asleep during the Crooked D.A.’s Witch Hunt, especially not today,” he wrote. “I simply close my beautiful blue eyes, sometimes, listen intensely, and take it ALL in!!!”

Trump’s denials did little to dissuade late-night hosts who seemed excited to have found a new way to ridicule the former president.

“Hibernating bears don’t sleep this much,” quipped Seth Meyers, host of NBC’s “Late Night.” “I’m starting to think when they say he slept with a porn star, they meant literally.”

Kimmel seems to especially relish the notion of a sleeping Trump. The host has rolled out a new nickname for Trump nearly every night on his show in recent weeks - including “Donnie Nappleseed,” “Dozo The Clown,” “Ebenezer Snoozer,” “Naptain America,” “Sleepy Donzales,” “Snoozin B. Anthony” and “Teddy Doze-evelt.”

Even Biden has gotten in on the fun. Speaking at a Seattle fundraiser on Friday, the president tucked in a joke about Trump’s courtroom habits as he greeted the standing-ovation crowd.

“Please keep it down,” Biden said. “Donald Trump is sleeping. ‘Sleepy Don,’ I kinda like that.”

Trump allies, for their part, say they don’t think the narrative will catch on or hurt him politically.

“Politics is a visual medium, and people see Joe Biden dragging a chair across the beach and shuffling down the road and falling and tripping all the time,” Trump campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita said. “They see Donald Trump walking onstage, carrying on a conversation and holding rallies for three hours, twice in one day.”

He added, “Of course, a bunch of loser late-night comedians would make jokes about it, because people fall asleep to their lame jokes anyway.”

- - -

Devlin Barrett, Mark Berman, Shayna Jacobs, Marianne LeVine, Clara Ence Morse and Matt Viser contributed to this report.


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Video: Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers in recent weeks have asked why former president Donald Trump keeps falling asleep during his New York criminal trial.(c) 2024 , The Washington Post

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