Former US president Donald Trump has continued to face a judicial tumult even as he remains poised to secure the Republican Party’s nomination for the forthcoming 2024 presidential elections. Special Counsel Jack Smith, appointed by the Ministry of Justice, has initiated fresh indictments against Trump, encompassing charges related to the events that followed Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election. Charges against Trump include conspiring against the US, impeding an official course of action, and transgressing electoral rights.
Smith said Biden had intentionally propagated falsehoods concerning electoral fraud, which served as a catalyst for his supporters to storm the Capitol on 6 January 2021 to obstruct the Congress’ endorsement of his adversary’s triumph.
The recent indictment is the third legal accusation against Trump within the past four months, following his prior indictment by a grand jury in Manhattan, New York City, in April, which emerged after an investigation around a case involving the disbursement of $130,000 to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 presidential election and conceal an alleged extramarital affair.
In June, Trump faced allegations concerning the mishandling of classified documents after leaving the White House on 20 January 2021, including highly sensitive intelligence about the defence capabilities and armaments of the US and other nations, detailed information on American nuclear programmes, strategic plans to counter foreign threats, and potential vulnerabilities that the US and its allies might face in case of a military conflict.
Those recent accusations are unlikely to be the end of Trump’s legal challenges. Ongoing investigations into his unlawful intervention in altering the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, a state narrowly won by his opponent Biden, suggest that further legal troubles may arise.
Among legal experts, the most recent indictment is regarded as the gravest against Trump. The preceding two indictments were associated with considerably less severe offences but the latest revolved around Trump’s unsuccessful endeavour to subvert the US government. Both domestically and internationally, those developments have spurred inquiries into the potential ramifications of these accusations on his prospects for future US presidential elections.
Many are of the opinion that those recent accusations might not significantly impact Trump’s potential candidacy in the 2024 presidential elections since US laws grant individuals facing criminal charges or convictions the right to seek and hold public office. However, there is a single exception laid out in the constitution, which pertains to engaging in acts of insurrection or rebellion against the nation.
Meanwhile, some observers argue that Trump’s involvement in the events of January could be interpreted as participation in disobedience and rebellion, leading to limitations on his electoral prospects. This perspective has led to a legal debate about the precise nature of the charges against the former president. Being incarcerated would impede Trump’s ability to fulfil the duties of the office effectively.
Despite these concerns, the legal troubles of the leading Republican candidate have not appeared to erode the support of his conservative Republican base significantly. Recent polling conducted by The New York Times and Siena College indicates that Trump holds a commanding lead over his closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, with 54 per cent of respondents favouring him compared to 17 per cent for DeSantis. This poll was conducted among 1,329 registered voters from 23 to 27 July.
Opinion polls also suggest that Trump’s legal challenges are unlikely to impact his potential to secure victory in the upcoming US elections if he secures the Republican nomination. The results of the previously mentioned poll indicate a split of 43 per cent support each for Trump and his Democratic rival, Biden, in a hypothetical 2024 presidential match.
Capitalising on his judicial troubles, the former US president is framing the criminal indictments against him as efforts to exclude him from the presidential race due to his perceived strength as the Republican front runner and his ability to secure the party’s nomination. He positions himself as the contender capable of defeating Biden, who is seeking reelection for a second term. This strategy is aimed at rallying his supporters and encouraging Republican donors to contribute funds to his campaign. Consequently, his campaign has indeed witnessed a surge in fundraising rates compared to his Republican counterparts.
There is a valid concern however that the mounting legal challenges Trump faces could potentially divert a substantial portion of his campaign funds towards legal expenses, rather than allocating them to traditional campaign activities and electoral outreach. This diversion is particularly worrisome in pivotal states that hold the key to determining the ultimate winner of the presidential election.
The accusations levelled against Trump have acted as a unifying force within the Republican camp, with many Republicans perceiving the Democrats as politicising the US judiciary. This sentiment has intensified as multiple criminal charges have been brought against the former US president, while the perceived wrongdoings of Hunter Biden, the president’s son, appear to go unaddressed, which could have significant ramifications for Trump’s potential to secure a second presidential term.
Republican Representative Jim Jordan, who chairs the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, characterised the new charges against Trump as “a sad day for America.” Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy expressed his alignment with those who uphold the rule of law and stand by Trump.
Utilising the criminal charges to bolster his popularity among his conservative base, Trump leverages these situations to garner increased support as his legal proceedings continue. He employs these accusations as rhetorical ammunition in his electoral speeches, critiquing Biden’s administration for potentially weaponising the judiciary against him. Trump’s campaign team portrays this as the latest chapter of perceived interference in the 2024 presidential election.
Benefiting from the judicial charges against him to boost his electoral standing, an Axios report on 5 August revealed that Trump’s senior campaign officials privately acknowledged the gravity of some charges and their potential for substantiation. Trump employs three strategies to mitigate trial impact on his electoral prospects. Firstly, he seeks to postpone trials until after the 2024 elections, aiming to win and potentially self-pardon, an unprecedented move. Secondly, he leans on friendly judges to sway proceedings in his favour. Lastly, he frames losses as politically motivated, confident in the Supreme Court’s potential to overturn convictions. Trump’s legal team aims to delay trials and extend them beyond the election date, possibly facing resistance from judges opposed to such tactics.
Despite the numerous criminal charges against Trump, he remains a strong contender for the Republican Party’s nomination in the upcoming presidential elections. These charges, including possible future ones related to his involvement in the election outcome in Georgia, have actually reinforced his determination to run for the presidency.
He has openly committed to running regardless of any convictions resulting from these cases. This stance has further solidified support for both the Republican Party and its electoral base. It is worth noting that there is no constitutional provision barring Trump from seeking office or assuming leadership responsibilities even in the event of a criminal conviction.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 10 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly