Donald Trump appeared at his $250 million civil fraud trial on Monday.
The former president, who has labeled the trial a “sham” as part of a politically motivated “witch hunt,” was under no obligation to attend. But he attended the first two days, using any opportunity he could to share his views with reporters gathered outside.
With the Republican frontrunner facing a further six trials in the lead-up to next year’s election, his recent court appearance in his once home state provides an insight of what’s to come.
An Unprecedented Trial for Donald Trump and America
Most journalists at some point in their career have covered a court case, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone has covered anything quite like this.
Trump’s public defense has largely followed the same rhetoric he’s used to build support for his third successive attempt at the presidency. His headline argument, whether it’s a civil or criminal case, is that he’s being targeted by the establishment. Rarely does he ever try to build on the facts of the cases against him.
Most attorneys advise their clients to avoid speaking about their cases, particularly on social media for the world to see. Trump is an exception; he knows his political opponents are going to focus on his legal dramas, so he’s weaponizing them. It’s a strategy that has already landed him in trouble, with a gag order imposed by Judge Arthur Engoron on Tuesday preventing him from attacking anyone involved in the case.
The bulk of Trump’s courtroom battles, including all four criminal indictments, will not begin until next year. That wait has prompted much speculation as to how the likely Republican presidential nominee will balance a political campaign and mandated court appearances. Quite clearly, Trump is planning to merge the two.
Crying “witch hunt” is a powerful political argument in itself. Distrust of the federal government, currently led by a president who beat Trump in a bitter election three years ago, has never been lower. For a politician who could be in prison on election day, Trump can counter almost any argument against him with his rhetoric. It may be unevidenced, it may even be untrue, but if it works, it works.
Arguably, the bulk of his criminal trials occurring during primary season works in his favor. Realistically, are media outlets likely to focus on a Republican contest to decide who’s the second most supported Republican candidate, or are they going to focus on the courtroom battles of the likely nominee? Given the vastly reduced viewing figures for the second GOP debate, one would suspect it to be the latter.
All eyes will be on Trump next year, and he knows it. The legal battles and his political campaign are no longer separate. They are intertwined, and Trump knows he must use such damaging allegations to his advantage.
Shay Bottomley is a British journalist based in Canada. He has written for the Western Standard, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, Windsor Express, Berkshire Live and Southend Echo, and has covered notable events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
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