The overwhelming focus of ALL media on ex-President Trump‘s criminal indictment during Easter week reminds us of his striking ability to suck up all the oxygen in American politics, to totally occupy the terrain with his message, in this case to discredit the judicial system as biased, unfair, unworthy of being accepted. The reaction of the entire leadership of the Republican Party – either to come out in loud defense of Trump’s claim that the indictment is unjustified or at best to be silent on the question – leads to two early conclusions:
– If he stays healthy, Trump will be the Republican Party’s nominee for the 2024 presidential election (an opinion I already had 6 months ago), and
– Just as Trump has succeeded in getting the Republican Party to support his claim that he won the 2020 election, Trump’s attacks will seriously weaken America’s trust in its legal system, one of the foundations of American democracy.
After winning the presidential election of November 2016, Trump has led the Republican Party to three electoral defeats: the 2018 Midterm, the 2020 Presidential election and the 2022 Midterm, leading many Republican Party leaders to consider that Trump is not the best candidate to bring them victory in the 2024 Presidential election, but whenever they are forced to publicly pick sides, for example to take a position on Trump’s criminal indictment, they invariably side with Trump, exhibiting their fear of opposing him and confirming his complete grip on the Republican Party.
Particularly significant is the total silence on the subject of Trump’s indictment of the leader of the Republican establishment, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. If Trump has an enemy within the Republican establishment, it is McConnell. Their relationship is complex. McConnell could have removed Trump from office if he had mobilized his troops to condemn Trump in the second impeachment trial. He chose not to, but he said he thought Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” of January 6, and that “former Presidents are not immune” from being pursued within the US judicial system. The two are openly in conflict, Trump constantly attacks McConnell and McConnell clearly blames Trump for having caused the Republican’s loss of the Senate majority in 2020.
Yet McConnell has not raised the slightest criticism of Trump over the latter’s indictment, his silence is a clear indication that he feels he cannot take on the ex-President publicly, and if the senior leader of the Republican establishment who believes the Party must move on beyond Trump cannot take him on, who can? There is no room for opposition to Trump within the Republican Party, what Jared Kushner called “the hostile takeover of the Republican Party” by Trump is complete, and potential rivals of the ex-President find it impossible to position themselves in opposition to him: he will occupy the central role and be chosen as the Republican Presidential candidate for the 2024 election. We will observe in the coming months that those running against him will not be aiming to replace him, but rather be running simply to increase their national visibility or to be vying for a selection as Vice-President (or Cabinet Secretary) on a Trump-led ticket.
In the meantime, Trump is certain to run into increasing legal problems, there are as many as 19 cases against him including accusations of crimes concerning financial wrongdoings, mishandling of national security documents, sexual assaults, interfering with the 2020 elections or his role in the January 6, 2021 insurrection, and it is probable that a number of these cases will lead to indictments. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
What will be the impact of these accusations on Trump’s presidential candidacy?
Nothing in the US Constitution says that an individual eligible to be president cannot be accused or even convicted of a crime, so from a purely legal point of view, Trump’s legal problems do not prevent him from running and possibly winning, both the Republican nomination and the presidency. We can also predict that Trump will as he always has in the past use every legal maneuver to delay already slow legal processes, and will no doubt succeed to have any potential conviction of a crime be delayed beyond the November 2024 election. In the meantime, as an ex-President, is he protected from any legal actions? No. Although sitting Presidents are normally immune from federal prosecution, the Constitution explicitly states in Article I, Section 3: “There are no policy rules or guidelines that prohibit a prosecutor from indicting a presidential candidate.”
What are the political consequences of likely multiple indictments? We already know that the April 4 New York indictment has strengthened Trump’s position in the Republican Party. In a survey by the Trafalgar Group, seventy-four percent of GOP primary voters say the indictment makes it more likely they will vote for him. He is also reputed to have raised $8 million in fundraising in the days after the indictment. On the other hand, many Republican commentators consider that multiple indictments will weaken his support among the swing voters that are essential to win a presidential election, leaving the Republican Party with a difficult dilemma: Trump’s legal problems will increase his chances of being chosen as the Republican presidential candidate in 2024, but decrease his chances of winning the presidential election.
Another certain consequence of Trump’s myriad legal problems is that he will aggressively attack the US legal system, calling it untrustworthy, politically motivated, corrupt and he will also personally attack the District Attorneys and judges involved in his cases. Will the result be a loss of faith in the American legal system? Among Republicans, that is highly probable, judging by Trump’s remarkable success in convincing Republicans of the “Big Lie”, that he won the 2020 presidential election. In spite of massive evidence to the contrary, and virtually zero evidence every found to support the claim, one-third of all Americans still believe Trump, and not Biden, won the 2020 election, including two-thirds of all Republicans. It is remarkable to note that whether or not something is true does not seem to enter into play, when someone like Trump repeatedly hammers a falsehood, those who support him believe it. Denigrating the US legal system will no doubt find an echo among anti-establishment Republicans, with troubling long-term consequences.