Trump pleaded not guilty. The stakes couldn’t be higher

If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president, the 2024 election will be a referendum on his criminality

Ahmed Baba
Friday 04 August 2023 08:38 BST
'Persecution': Watch Trump's reaction after leaving DC court after arrest

​​Donald Trump just faced his third arraignment in four months over his most consequential indictment yet. Trump stood in the same DC courthouse where over 1,000 January 6 rioters have appeared. Trump pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he led a multifaceted criminal conspiracy that sought to overturn American democracy. The same Constitution that Trump tried to undermine is now protecting him with due process rights. And now, Trump is shamelessly exploiting this process to bolster his campaign in his desperate re-election bid to keep himself out of prison.

If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president, the 2024 election will be a referendum on his criminality. He now faces 78 felony charges between his three indictments and his road to potential re-election is paved with trials. The Trump Organization fraud case is in October 2023, the second E Jean Carroll defamation trial is in January 2024, the hush money trial is in March 2024, and the classified documents trial is in May 2024. And soon, there will be a trial scheduled for this new 2020 election conspiracy. Trump could theoretically face 641 years in prison given his charges.

The legal defenses Trump has attempted are flimsy at best. Trump knows his legal troubles are overwhelming and the chances of conviction are increasing with each indictment. This is too big to ignore, so he’s trying to flip the script and make his indictments a key part of his campaign message. Rather than engaging in a serious legal defense, it appears Trump and his team are prioritizing a political defense.

Trump’s campaign slogan might as well be “Save Me From Jail,” because that’s exactly how he’s behaving. It’s not just his behavior indicating Trump is running for president for self-preservation, it’s also the argument he’s using in court. When attempting to delay his classified documents trial until after the election, Trump’s lawyers sought to use Trump’s campaign for president as a basis for pushing it back.

While Trump is surely miserable amid this season of accountability, he’s seeking to present an image of defiance, fundraising, and calling his arrest a “great honor.” You would think he views these arraignments as campaign events the way he’s hyping them up. He’s implementing a risky strategy to try to turn what is an objectively terrible development for him into a positive.

Ahead of his arraignment on Thursday afternoon, Trump posted on Truth Social, “I NEED ONE MORE INDICTMENT TO ENSURE MY ELECTION!” This sentiment has been repeated at his recent rallies. Just when you thought his rallies couldn’t get any more dystopian, Trump has been heard repeatedly saying, “I’m being indicted for you!” to cheering crowds.

This messaging comes as Trump and his allies are deflecting from the evidence and falsely seeking to depict Trump’s indictments as politically motivated Biden Administration “witch hunts”. It’s the same familiar victimization messaging Trump used in 2016 and throughout his presidency. There is always a boogeyman out to get him. First, it was the “establishment,” then it was the “deep state” in his own administration, and now it’s the Biden administration and law enforcement officials. The question is, will this strategy work?

Polling has indicated that Trump’s support has increased in the Republican primary since he’s been indicted. It appears, once again, that facts don’t matter to Trump’s base. They’re standing by their man. This approach might help Trump win the nomination if no other GOP candidates become viable alternatives, but it’s likely to damage him in the general election. While some polls show Biden and Trump neck and neck, others show Biden leading. Trump’s series of trials will feed into President Biden’s message against MAGA extremists, a playbook he reportedly plans to expand on in 2024.

We could very well be in a situation where Donald Trump is a convicted felon awaiting sentencing as the November election is approaching. What happens then? Trump has said he will stay in the race even if he’s convicted because, of course he will. That’s what this is all about. Legal experts say that Trump could still serve as president as a convicted felon, but ironically he wouldn’t be able to vote for himself in his home state of Florida. The question then becomes whether Trump will attempt to pardon himself if he were to win. The timing of his potential conviction and sentencing then becomes vital.

The stakes of the 2024 election are profound. Trump used the presidency to shield himself from accountability for four years, and now he’s craving that power again. He won’t just use his regained power to protect himself, he’ll seek revenge on his political opponents. Americans should look at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a cautionary tale of what happens when an indicted former head of state regains power - not something America should emulate.

Will America re-elect an authoritarian who has been indicted for attempting to destroy our democracy in an alleged criminal conspiracy? What will it take to break the Trump fever? One more indictment? Ten more? One hundred? Will it take Trump actually serving prison time or will he have a cult following as long as he’s alive?

Maybe the more relevant question to ask in this polarized electorate is how many independents and moderate Republicans will show up again to vote against this insanity?

To think, all this could’ve been avoided if Senate Republicans had convicted and banned Trump from office in his impeachment trial. Now, again, it’s on us to reject this historically corrupt demagogue. Let’s hope we make sure Trump’s cynical bet doesn’t pay off.

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