As you may have heard, the big news — actually, the gargantuan-sized news — is that Donald Trump has now become the only president, sitting or former, to have been indicted, and also the only president/former president/possibly-president-once-again to have been, as Trump wrote in a social media post, “INDICATED.”
We weren’t exactly surprised by the fact that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg was going to bring charges against Trump in the Stormy Daniels hush money/possible election fraud case. Trump himself informed the nation he would be arrested last Tuesday. And even if he missed the date by a few days, that does not lessen the moment, which demands we consider the possibility that Trump, at long last, will be held responsible for his many crimes against democracy, not to mention against truth, justice and what used to be called the American way.
To recap: In Trump’s world, he was “INDICATED” by “thugs” and “Radical Left Monsters” who have launched a “CONTINUOUS ATTACK ON OUR ONCE FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS.”
I won’t bother to deconstruct that sentence or comment on the grammar, other than to note that we now know, thanks to the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox, just how many in the Fox News family, from Rupert Murdoch to Tucker Carlson, didn’t actually believe Trump’s first round of false accusations about free and fair elections.
But naturally, that didn’t stop Fox News from continuing to promulgate the Big Lie. Or stop Carlson, who apparently sent a text to a Fox News colleague saying he “hated” Trump passionately, from also saying that most of those involved in the January 6 riot were “peaceful, orderly and meek” sightseers.
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And naturally, the indictment hasn’t stopped most Republican office holders from rushing to defend Trump — or stopped House Speaker-for-now Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan and the Republican House majority from threatening to intervene in Bragg’s case against Trump, which Fox’s Laura Ingraham has compared to “Stalin’s purges” — because that’s what they do. And they attempt to justify it by echoing Trump’s Radical Left Monsters rhetoric and even defending the so-called American “patriots” who, yes, defended the sanctity of the 2020 election by assaulting the Capitol, beating up cops, threatening to hang the vice president and then, in a final act of real Americanism, forming Trump’s favorite singing group, the J6 choir.
As late-night host Stephen Colbert noted, if Trump is convicted, he may finally get his chance to join that choir. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Here’s what we should remember: There’s bigger news yet to come. Much bigger. And that’s the reality of this story — that the case of New York vs. Donald Trump will almost certainly be followed by the case of the United States vs. Donald Trump and then the case of the state of Georgia vs. Donald Trump and maybe more.
It’s gotten sufficiently serious that the Justice Department case, thanks to a court order, will now feature testimony from Mike Pence. And it’s fair to say that Pence, who also wants to run for president and who predictably called the Trump indictment an “outrage,” doesn’t seem all that unhappy about the prospect of testifying about his former boss’ attempt to strong-arm him into subverting the Constitution.
Many pundits, none of whom had actually seen the indictment, have suggested that this case is the weakest Trump could face because it involves hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Trump. Oh yeah, and also possible election fraud. And who knows how much more?
And though I readily concede that the cases involving January 6 and Trumpian attempts to overturn an election are far more important and probably should have come first, it somehow seems right that the first case involves a sleazy-sounding indictment — I mean, it might have Michael Cohen as a key witness — against the sleazy former president who greeted the prospect of an indictment with the threat that it could lead to “death and destruction,” while also asking his supporters to “PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
Meanwhile, Trump is busily accusing Black DA Bragg, who’s bringing the case, of being “racist,” and on a “witch hunt” and being supported by GOP bogeyman George Soros, who conveniently happens to be Jewish and whose support for the DA seems to be limited to having contributed to a group that would support Bragg. Soros says he’s never even met Bragg.
I know it can’t be a good look in a democracy to indict, or indicate, a former president — one who received 73 million votes in 2020 — who is also the leading candidate to win the Republican nomination for president in 2024. On the other hand, if you believe that no one should be above the law — which history suggests has not always been the case — then maybe this is a good thing for a democracy to finally confront. Other democracies have managed it.
In any case, I’d suggest it’s risky for Republican defenders of the former guy to get too worked up on this indictment because of the many indictments certain to follow and because, you have to ask yourself, how many times can someone like Lauren Boebert tweet that “This is another political witch hunt targeting the people’s president.”
OK, let’s agree that Boebert is not likely to tire. Boebert has found the time to defend Trump even while busily grilling a Washington city council member for supposedly supporting a proposal — one that the city council member actually voted against and which, in any case, didn’t pass — to decriminalize public urination in the District of Columbia. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank called the committee hearing the first round of the Great Public Pee Pee Debate of 2023.
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Trump has repeatedly said, although you’re not required to believe it, that he actually welcomes the theater of being fingerprinted and having his mug shot sent around the world and of even possibly being handcuffed. (Don’t count on the cuffs. It’s hard to see how that would work with Trump’s Secret Service detail, although you do wonder if those guys would have to accompany Trump to prison if he’s ever convicted.)
Maybe the best commentary I’ve seen on how the indictments might play with Trump’s base comes from David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times. He points out Trump is such a well known person — in 1999, according to polls, more people had an opinion on Trump than they did on future president George W. Bush — that most people’s positions on Trump are securely locked in.
Trump is already using the indictment for fund-raising purposes, and, in recent polling, despite the threat of multiple looming criminal charges, he has moved ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the rest of the GOP primary field. There is a theory that indictments would help Trump in a primary run, even if he had to spend much of that time inside a courtroom. There’s also a theory that Trump, if nominated despite the indictments, would be an even more weakened general election candidate.
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There’s no real way to know at this point. What we do know is that Trump’s arraignment is scheduled in New York — Marjorie Taylor Greene has already announced she will be there, too — for Tuesday when we should learn far more about the indictment and how strong, or not, this first case against Trump might be.
And what we can guess is that the first case won’t be the last case and, to cite Churchill, this indictment is not the beginning of the end for Trump and his latest legal woes — or for an already polarized nation to deal with it — but only the end of the beginning.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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