Donald Trump’s success in delaying his trials has garnered lots of attention. Criminal proceedings in the Jan. 6 election subversion case—arguably the biggest threat Trump faces before Election Day—remain in an indefinite holding pattern while the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and likely the Supreme Court, weigh Trump’s claim to have presidential immunity from criminal prosecution.
Pundits and analysts have approached the notion that voters might ultimately cast their ballots in the November election without knowing the outcome in any of Trump’s 91 criminal indictments with an air of trepidation.
Reality-based voters believe that if Trump is reelected, he will abuse his power to quash his legal liabilities. And in that sense, justice delayed would truly be justice denied.
But in terms of electoral outcomes this November, the conventional wisdom holds that Trump facing trial ahead of Election Day would redound to the benefit of President Joe Biden.
As ABC News’ Jonathan Karl pointed out on this week’s ”Hacks on Tap” podcast, the parade of horribles about Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6 would all come to light via testimony from Trump insiders such as his former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and his deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino.
“It’s a devastating portrait of Donald Trump,” said Karl, who has reported extensively on the evidence against Trump. “When these guys are forced to speak under oath, and they talk about Trump’s behavior after the election, in November of 2020, and the days leading up to Jan. 6 and on Jan. 6 itself, as the Capitol is under attack … it is devastating.”
But truth be told, nothing guarantees a Trump conviction would actually play better for Biden and worse for Trump.
Conventional wisdom also held that 91 criminal indictments would weigh Trump down in the Republican primary. Instead, Trump’s legal morass has benefitted him as he cultivated a sense of victimhood and grievance among his supporters. Indeed, instead of Trump stumbling in the primary, he now looks to be a lock for the GOP nomination short of some exogenous event.
The general election isn’t the primary, of course, and polling has suggested Trump could suffer from a pre-Election Day conviction. In Iowa, for instance, exit polls showed that 31% of Republican voters would view Trump as unfit for office if he were convicted of a crime.
But people are notoriously bad at predicting the behavior of their future selves, and Trump is notoriously good at manipulating political liabilities to his advantage.
The bottom line is, with Trump, there’s no sure thing, and there’s simply no guarantee that a conviction would work to Biden’s favor in November. Trump might actually manage to turn such a conviction into an existential rallying cry for his most avid supporters while anti-Trumpers feel satisfied that Trump is finally being held to account. In other words, perhaps his voters get even more engaged while anti-Trumpers take their foot off the gas a bit.
But let’s flip the equation: What if Trump successfully delays all his comeuppance until after the election? No trials start and the judicial system is simply on hold until the dust settles from the election.
In that case, anti-Trumpers would likely be livid at the thought of Trump successfully gaming the legal system once again and potentially avoiding being held to account indefinitely.
Democrats’ message could be something along the lines of: “Trump has gamed the legal system and evaded justice his whole life. Don’t let him get away with it again. VOTE.”
It’s exactly the type of scenario that could inspire a critical mass of voters to climb over broken glass to get to the polls and ensure Trump faces trial. Without poll-testing such a message, it’s hard to get a sense of the impact. But the idea of Trump mounting a violent attack on the U.S. seat of government with the intent of stealing the 2020 election and never actually going to trial over it is infuriating on the basest of levels.
Look, no one can predict the future. This is only to say that as the nation watches the gears of justice grind ever so slowly in advance of Nov. 5, there’s no reason to panic from an electoral standpoint.
Testimony from Trump allies in the Jan. 6 trial could ultimately prove “devastating” to his reelection bid, as Karl implied, but there’s no silver bullet here. It’s also possible that Trump managing to stall justice until after the election would absolutely enrage anti-Trump voters along with anyone who believes that no one—not even a former president—is above the law.
Voters will ultimately hold Trump’s fate and that of our country in their hands. And a powerful and inspiring argument against Trump ever seeing the inside of the White House again can be made.
It is primary season, and Donald Trump seems pretty low energy these days. Kerry and Markos talk about the chances of Trump stumbling through the election season and the need to press our advantage and make gains in the House and Senate. Meanwhile, the right-wing media world is losing its collective minds about Taylor Swift registering younger Americans to vote!
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.