With the Department of Justice’s 37-count indictment, former President Donald Trump is facing serious legal trouble.
The charges are serious. The prosecution is serious.
And the consequences for conviction are serious.
But aside from the seriousness of the upcoming criminal trial itself, the case is serious for its potential effects on the 2024 presidential election.
How will the charges change the outcome? Will the charges ruin Trump’s chances at earning his third consecutive GOP nomination?
Or will the charges serve as a rallying point for what many see as a cult-like leader?
Ultimately, the charges will help Donald Trump
The DOJ’s indictment of Trump, in theory, should serve as the perfect moment for the GOP to pivot into a post-Trump world; the indictment is the perfect excuse for the GOP to move on to someone else.
A few prominent Republicans have even tsk-tsked over Trump’s conduct and the pending trial – which may be the earliest manifestations of an anti-Trump bloc forming to leverage the moment into a pivot away from Trump.
But don’t count on it.
At a certain point, when you’ve seen a guy wiggle out from as many hazardous situations as Trump has, somehow unscathed, you’ve got to start giving the guy the benefit of the doubt. Like Bill Clinton for example.
You’ve got to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, even when his back is against the wall. You’re better off assuming Bill is going to wiggle away, and perhaps even slingshot the situation into his own political benefit. Donald Trump gets the same benefit of the doubt from me at this point. My default assumption is that Trump is going to wiggle out from trouble. That may not be a very scientific analysis but that’s where I’m at, after years of conditioning.
Consider the specifics
Although, there is a more scientific angle to my analysis. Consider that the charges against Trump can be framed as (and may well actually be) politically motivated. Specifics of the case aside, the mishandling of classified documents is almost universally handled as an administrative issue. People get reprimanded or people get fired. The Department of Justice doesn’t get involved. Federal prosecutors don’t seek prison sentences.
So the fact that this time, as Trump is running a real-time campaign against the man who currently controls the DOJ, that very same DOJ has decided to intervene in an administrative issue, raises some questions about the motives propelling the case forward. Then, you’ve got to account for the fact that Trump could have unilaterally declassified the documents he is now in trouble for possessing. Trump failed to do so, which was lazy and/or stupid. But what we’re left with is essentially busting Trump on an administrative technicality. It’s hall monitor stuff, demonstrating that someone was lying in waiting, hoping against hope that Trump would do something that would allow for prosecution.
The point is that it won’t be hard to make the case that Trump is being prosecuted for political purposes. And when you’ve got a voting bloc (MAGA) who has long since been convinced that Trump is being perpetually persecuted for his efforts to Drain the Swamp, you’re probably not going to have a difficult time convincing people that the DOJ is in fact conducting a political witch-hunt.
My best guess is that Trump gains support from the indictment, rather than bleeds support. Either way, a startling and dangerous precedent has been established – a precedent that both parties would do well to recognize.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.