The Politics of Trump's Pending Arrest
The arrest of a former President and leading Presidential candidate is a seismic event with unpredictable ramifications
In the coming hours or days, the twice-impeached, two-time loser of the popular vote will likely be indicted and then arrested.
Trump spent years flagrantly committing crimes and flaunting the potential consequences in public and on Twitter. This event seemed both impossible and inevitable.
The arrest of a former President alone would be historic, but Trump is also the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. There is much to say about why a soon to be indicted former President remains the leader of a political movement and how we got to this moment. This is a sad statement on the health of our democracy.
The politics of the indictment are complicated and unpredictable. None of that will stop the mad rush to offer hot takes. Some argue that being indicted for this specific crime will help Trump. Others predict that Trump is toast. Attention-thirsty pundits want the engagement and attention and have no fear of falling flat on their faces. Who can forget this epic David Brooks take on the FBI raid on Mar a Lago?
Here’s the uncomfortable truth. The politics of Trump’s arrest could go either way. As disturbing as this may sound, the pending criminal prosecution may tie the hands of Trump’s opponents. It could also deal a blow from which he cannot recover — or, like so much else, the crime could be memory-holed due to our collective attention deficit disorder. Let’s be clear about one thing: being indicted is never a win. It won’t help. It’s just a question of how much it will hurt if he makes it to the general election.
Politics are dynamic — the impact will be determined by how Trump responds, how the District Attorney proceeds, whether the political media covers it like a political game or an actual crime, and so much else.
I can’t offer a prediction — that would violate the cardinal rule of Pod Save America. But I can offer some thoughts on how the politics could play out.
The Other Crimes Likely Matter More
Donald Trump will likely be indicted for engineering hush money payments to cover up an affair. He is currently under federal investigation for absconding from the White House with highly classified materiali and for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election. The Fulton County District Attorney could indict him for a pressure campaign on Georgia officials to throw out legally cast votes. Trump is also the defendant in numerous civil lawsuits involving everything from financial fraud to rape.
If you were to rank Trump’s alleged criminal acts by political salience in a Buzzfeed-style listicle, I venture that the hush money payments would come last. A well-known seven-year-old crime emanating from private conduct (even if it involved defrauding the public) will be the easiest crime for Trump to demonize, Republican elect to dismiss, and voters to ignore. The fact that Trump is a corrupt cad has been priced into the baseline since he first ran for President.
The GOP defense of Trump was laid out by Lindsey Graham over the weekend:
They're making stuff up that they've never used against anybody because they hate Trump. That's what this is. They're brewing a legal cocktail, to try to come up with some bizarre theory. The law never used by anybody in New York, just because they hate Trump. You know why they're doing this? Because they're afraid of Trump. That's why they're doing it.
If the hush money payments end up being the only indictment, it’s easy to imagine a world where the political ramifications are minimal. But if Trump is indicted for other crimes, things could change dramatically and quickly — which is why it’s important to remember that this arrest is the beginning, not the end.
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