We are entering what might be the worst-case scenario for President Trump, chairman and CEO and star of his own ever-morphing reality TV show. We’re two seasons into what is likely to be the final version: “White House Apprentice.” It has been quite a romp for him, but the ratings are still dismal, and now the show is in serious legal trouble, too, and the stench of failure is becoming unmistakable. This is the one thing he cannot abide, or afford.

The whole Trump phenomenon, like all cons, feeds on and survives by the appearance of success. Political/autocratic cons succeed by that, with the addition of raw intimidation. As long as you can scare people (his own party) into believing you will have the standing to reward and/or punish them, the weak will shut up and behave. But this Ponzi scheme depends on ever-escalating tiers of expanding payoffs and power. The fatal weakness is when its always-rickety inner structure starts to show.

We are here. Trump’s record of profound incompetence has been kept afloat so far by mesmerized media and a capitulating, sycophantic party that temporarily held all the levers of power. No longer. The Trump economy is looking more and more like what it really is, a straight-line extension of the Obama recovery, goosed by a deficit-funded tax cut for the rich into an extra inning or two. And now showing its age and instability. But the shoes that keep falling from the Mueller investigation, including now a clear implication that Trump participated in a felony, are becoming the last straws. Incompetence, deception, illegality. Failure.

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The smell of failure is what gets the rats to start leaving the sinking ship. And Trump has always surrounded himself with lots of those. And Trump’s fallback plan of rallying his never-growing base of 35 percent won’t save him. The loss of his aura of invincibility is fatal to someone who most Americans couldn’t stand to begin with. Maybe the best Trump can hope for now is to limp forward and look for or create some new crisis to exploit. He is badly wounded.

A word of warning to the rest of us: Remember what they say about wounded animals.

See more cartoons and blog posts by Tom Toles:

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