Which means the most serious charge against Trump

A president who is part of a conspiracy – against his own state and against the lawful process of a transfer of power. This is usually stuff from struggling countries or autocracies. This is exactly what the US judiciary is now accusing the 45th President of the United States: Donald Trump. In an unprecedented indictment that dwarfs all previous legal charges against the Republican. And in an indictment that is at stake not only for Trump, but also for American democracy.

January 6, 2021 was a turning point for the United States: a fanatical crowd stormed the Capitol in Washington, whipped up by then-President Trump. Its followers ran over barriers, smashed windows, brutally beat down police officers and devastated the congress building. Several people lost their lives. The excess of violence was an unprecedented attack on the heart of US democracy. A blatant attempt to overturn the outcome of an election. And the culmination of a months-choreographed campaign by Trump to portray the 2020 presidential election as a fraud and reverse its outcome.

The most serious allegations against an ex-president in US history

A good two and a half years later, the next turning point for the country follows: the former president and current Republican presidential candidate Trump is accused of his campaign against the outcome of the election and his role in the Capitol attack. The memorable 45-page indictment lists how Trump fought his election defeat in every possible way, how he promoted a conspiracy with six other people, how he instrumentalized the Justice Department, how he pressured federal and state politicians, including his Vice President Mike Pence – all with the aim of staying in power. The prosecutors argue that he knew very well that there was nothing to his allegations of voter fraud.

There have never been such serious criminal charges against an ex-US President. In fact, never before in US history has a former president been brought before a court for an alleged crime. Trump now has to do this in several cases. In New York, he was charged in the spring in connection with hush money payments to a porn star. In June, he was indicted in Miami for storing top-secret government documents at his home after leaving the White House.

Trump’s lawyers are likely to delay the process for as long as possible

The charges surrounding the election and the Capitol attack are now for the first time alleged crimes during Trump’s tenure. And it’s about the fundamentals of the American constitution: Can an incumbent president spread lies about an election, can he try to reverse the will of the voters and use his government apparatus to do so? All of this was already the subject of an impeachment trial against Trump, which he escaped unconvicted thanks to a majority of his Senate Republicans. It was also the subject of a congressional committee of inquiry, which was just as inconsequential for Trump. However, the fact that he now has to answer in court for this reason has a new dimension.

Should Trump survive the indictment unscathed, radicals could take this as carte blanche to simply not accept an unwelcome election result and to hinder a peaceful change of office. Should Trump be convicted, this could in turn trigger enormous social upheaval in a country that is already politically deeply divided. But a decision on this is far away. Trump’s lawyers should try to delay the process as long as possible. It is questionable whether there will be a final judgment in this case before the presidential election in early November 2024. According to legal experts, Trump should also compete as a convicted criminal in the election.

Trump’s accusations do not harm him – on the contrary

However, it is already clear that the 2024 election year will be one like no other: Because the Republican presidential candidate – who has been the leading candidate to date – will have to deal with several parallel court cases throughout the entire election campaign.

It is astonishing that the growing mountain of legal problems does not harm Trump politically at all. On the contrary. Just a few days ago, the “New York Times” published a survey according to which Trump has 54 percent of Republican voters behind him – more than all other presidential candidates in his party combined. Even Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s biggest internal party competitor, is dramatically behind him. All others are bobbing in the single digits. The new indictment is unlikely to reverse this long-term trend anytime soon, no matter how serious the allegations are.

Most of the allegations against Trump on the election were made public during the impeachment trial and the investigative committee: they were broadcast on prime-time TV, augmented with powerful videos and remarkable testimonies. None of this has persuaded Trump’s base to turn away from him. Nor does his die-hard followers mind that he kept state secrets in a bathroom.

After the last two indictments, Trump’s poll numbers went up

And, as with his long-running campaign against alleged voter fraud, months ago Trump began telling his base not to trust investigators and prosecutors. All of this is nothing but a politically motivated attempt to prevent him from returning to power. Many followers repeat that obediently. After the previous two indictments, Trump’s poll numbers went up, as did his campaign fundraising.

According to the latest New York Times poll, 37 percent of the Republican electorate are hardcore Trump supporters who are fiercely loyal to him, undeterred by anything, and have absolutely nothing to do with the criminal investigation against him. In addition, there are another 37 percent of the Republican voter pool who are open to voting for Trump. It is therefore very difficult for his internal party competitors to beat him. The new indictment shouldn’t change anything about that for the time being.

Jean Harris

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