Washington (AFP) – The latest twist in Donald Trump’s fractious war with US law enforcement, like so much in the former president’s story, throws the United States into unprecedented territory.
Facing multiple federal charges over the hoarding of government secrets, the mercurial Republican presents the country with the prospect of a victorious candidate going to the White House under indictment – or running the government from a prison cell.
The defiant billionaire has dismissed notions that he would drop out of his party’s primary contest, opting instead for a preferred tactic of accusing his “corrupt” political opponents of election interference.
“It won’t sway undecided voters, but it will galvanize Trump supporters who are wavering or looking toward a candidate with less baggage,” national security analyst and former intelligence official Matt Shoemaker told AFP.
Prosecutors in both the federal documents case and the state-level financial fraud probe targeting Trump in New York will hope to face justice before the country has an election in 17 months.
But there’s no guarantee that either case will end that quickly, and Trump will also face federal and state-level investigations into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
That would potentially torpedo any outstanding federal lawsuit he was attempting to pardon himself—an unprecedented scenario that would almost certainly spark a constitutional crisis.
But he will have little influence on state-level matters and his immediate concern is that his legal woes could hurt his campaign to win the Republican nomination in the first place.
Heading to Juggler?
The latest indictment allows Trump’s primary challengers – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and others – to level criticism that the fugitive leader is unfit for office.
But they risk alienating Trump’s loyal base, whose support has grown more hawkish since the Manhattan indictment.
As a result, many rivals have rallied to Trump’s side, perhaps hoping to keep their powder dry until impeachments expected in the coming months eventually force him out of the running.
Trump is under federal investigation for his role in the January 6, 2021, US Capitol riot and media reports suggest he has been charged with looting and conspiracy for campaigning to overturn the tycoon’s election in Georgia in August.
“They are hoping that Trump is ultimately thrown out of the race by a series of indictments, including one related to January 6 and attempting to overturn the election,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
“That’s it. That’s their strategy… They’ll do nothing. Go for the juggler? Trump’s teeth will be in his throat before they can do that to him.
Prosecutors said Friday that Trump had been indicted on nearly 40 counts on a range of charges, including illegal possession of government secrets, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
In a recent YouGov poll, only half of respondents said it was a “serious crime” to falsify business records to conceal secret payments of money to a porn star – the case she faces in Manhattan.
But two-thirds said the same about the removal of classified government secrets from the White House and obstructing efforts to retrieve them.
The figures among Republicans are 28 percent and 42 percent, respectively — a difference that suggests Trump’s latest scandal could mark a turning point in his primary campaign.
DeSantis – who is polling second to Trump – has exercised restraint in comments on his opponent’s legal woes, but the rhetorical hand grenades between the camps have grown more unbridled in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Chris Christie, a political knife-fighter who has indicated he would rather take on Trump more directly than the rest of the pack, has jumped into the race since the Manhattan indictment.
“DeSantis would benefit most from Trump dropping out of the race, but he has calculated that they have similar potential voters, so he doesn’t want to alienate them,” said Shana Gadarian, professor of political science at Syracuse University. AFP.
He added, “It might take someone like Christie … to shake up this narrative.” “Christie’s candidacy is about bringing the mainstream back to the party and he can see the benefit of attracting former Republicans who were put off by Trump’s presidency.”